Bowden Bowl V may be last one

Originally Published: November 5, 2003
By Doug Carlson | Special to ESPN.com

Remember back in the day when the Bowden Bowl was cute?

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  • When Ann Bowden wore a makeshift sweatshirt, half-Clemson and half-Florida State and switched seats during the game to root for both her husband and son? Or how Bobby and Tommy dined together on Friday night, then went to watch Tommy's son play high school football?

    Forget that stuff.

    The fifth -- and final? -- Bowden Bowl kicks off Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Clemson and this time it really is about blood. For the families, quite frankly, it reeks.

    Bobby's third-ranked Seminoles are rolling, yet wary of becoming another statistic on the list of teams knocked from BCS championship-game contention in recent weeks. Tommy's unranked Tigers are trying to shake the embarrassment of a 28-point loss to Wake Forest last week and the stigma of being Florida State's rag doll in the Atlantic Coast Conference for too many years.

    But more than anything, this Bowden Bowl is about survival.

    Tommy Bowden is under pressure at Clemson, where he is 34-24 without a signature victory. His best, and maybe only, way to keep his job is to upset Florida State, then whip Duke and in-state rival South Carolina to finish 8-4 and 5-3 in the ACC.

    His contract runs through the 2007 season at more than $1 million a year, but has a relatively cheap buyout clause of $750,000. Earlier this week, he denied that he has been asked to resign and denied that he has been told he won't be back next year.

    Clemson's players, already traumatized by past experiences with the Seminoles, are faced with at least the subconscious belief that they're playing for Tommy's job. As if tackling Greg Jones wasn't enough to worry about.

    "We try to avoid it as much as we can, but it's out there,'' Tigers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said of the speculation. "You don't want to put more pressure on yourself.''

    Give Tommy credit for handling the potential distractions well. He spent the majority of his 45-minute session with the media Tuesday good-naturedly answering questions about his future and the added significance of Saturday's game.

    The greater ramifications aside, he just wants to see what it's like on the other side of the Bowden Bowl.

    "After four losses in a row to your father, man, you'd just love to beat him one time and have bragging rights,'' Tommy said. ""You know, at least one.''

    Tommy Bowden
    Tommy Bowden's offensive scheme can confuse opposing defenses.
    His best shot came in '99, in the first father-son coaching matchup in major college football. The Tigers led 14-3 at the half, but FSU tied it in the third quarter and won on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal with 5:25 remaining.

    Tommy is still kicking himself for not trying a fake field goal he'd planned, instead of the failed 42-yard attempt with 1:57 to play that might have sent the game into overtime.

    "I had a great fake that would have walked in,'' Tommy said. "I'd of loved to have knocked them out of the national championship with a fake field goal at the end of the game.''

    Trickery and deception might be Clemson's best shot this time, too. Anything but an expectation of compassion.

    Bobby Bowden will celebrate his 74th birthday on Saturday. Instead of lighting candles, past history suggests he'll be lighting his son's backside.

    Three years ago, Clemson went into the Bowden Bowl with its best team in recent years, sporting an 8-1 record and No. 10 ranking. Like this year, Bobby had a team in national championship contention.

    Chris Weinke remained in the game in the fourth quarter, throwing a 42-yard touchdown pass in a 54-7 rout. When the Tigers broke a long run to inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes, FSU called time-out and put its first-team defense back on the field.

    FSU's 771 yards of total offense was the most ever allowed by Clemson. Tommy left the field to a serenade of "Who's your daddy?'' from the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium.

    "It won't make any difference,'' Bobby said of the likelihood that Tommy's job may be on the line on Saturday. ""We will play as hard as we can. I know Tommy will play as hard as he can. That's what we expect. That's the way we were raised.

    "We know this profession is like that. It's very precarious. It's very precarious that it's come out like this. In the long run, I think it's worth it for both of us, no matter what happens."

    Easy for Bobby to say. He's got a lifetime contract, he's the major college career victories leader and he doesn't have to worry about sharing Ann's support this time. She's ditching the gimmicky outfits for pure garnet and gold.

    There will be no Friday night family meals, or impromptu get-togethers. When it's over, Bobby might crack another joke, like three years ago when he called the 47-point humiliation of his son "tough love.''

    "He's always had a sense of humor -- that's his demeanor,'' Tommy said. "But it's business. He's a lot more cold-blooded than what people think.''

    Doug Carlson covers college football for the Tampa Tribune.