TALLAHASSEE – For the first time since his retirement following the 2009 season, the legendary head coach and the all-time wins leader in FBS history, Bobby Bowden, returned to Doak Campbell Stadium and onto the field named for him. For the first time since Bowden took the Seminoles to the BCS title game in 2000, Florida State entered the day ranked second in the BCS.
In front of a near capacity crowd of 80,389 at the stadium that Bowden helped erect into a state-of-the-art facility and one of the more revered places to play in America, the Tallahassee crowd got to witness Bowden in vintage form. Bowden not only planted the spear at midfield during Florida State’s ceremonial pregame ritual, but Bowden briefly addressed the Doak Campbell Stadium crowd. The mixture of humor and emotion from Bowden’s southern drawl made it seem as though the legend had never left.
Bowden candidly joked that current head coach and Bowden’s former offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, seemed to know what he was doing. Bowden also showed his gratitude for the fan base and their support. “People ask me if I miss football. I say no. I miss the fans”, Bowden said in his pregame address to the Doak Campbell Stadium crowd.
“I love the guy”, said Fisher of Bowden. “He’s the greatest football coach in college football history in my opinion and the greatest gentleman for sure.”
In a nutshell, Saturday’s game against North Carolina State was a blend of past and present. With the man that led the Seminoles to 14 straight top 5 finishes, two national championships and 12 ACC titles in the school’s first 15 years as member of the conference on hand, the Seminoles’ play on Saturday served as proof that the program had come full circle.
Over Bowden’s final four years, the Seminoles battled through just a 30-22 record and NCAA sanctions. During the end of Bowden’s tenure and for the early parts of the Fisher era, fans remained unsettled with FSU’s second-tier status nationally.
“When I went out on the field, I shook his (Bowden’s) hand,” said defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, one of the few seniors to have played under both Bowden and Fisher. “That 7-6 season (2009) with Coach Bowden being there, that was a long season”, added McDaniel. “With Bowden as the captain of that ship, he just kept us together as a team”.
With Bowden present on Saturday, the Florida State football program appeared much more reminiscent to that of the glory years under Bowden throughout the 1990s than of his final teams that limped through mediocrity throughout the new millennium. With the legend on hand and his former disciple, Fisher, being the head man on the sideline, Florida State delivered an old school beatdown and third straight thrashing of an ACC foe.
“We wanted to play for ourselves, but we wanted to play for Coach Bowden too, because he built Florida State”, said McDaniel.
The 49-17 victory was inevitable early on as the Seminoles tied a school-record for points in a quarter as Florida State built a 35-0 lead at the end of one. Florida State’s output of total offense was more than eight times that of the Wolfpack in the first quarter.
The FSU defense forced two turnovers on N.C. State’s first nine plays from scrimmage and it wasn’t until the Wolfpack’s fifth series that N.C. State had finally earned a first down.
A freshman quarterback and legitimate Heisman contender, Jameis Winston, finished the day with 292 yards passing and three touchdowns for FSU. Meanwhile, the Florida State starting defense played just a half, but took a shutout into the break as the Seminoles went into the locker room with a 42-0 lead.
After three victories, two against ranked teams, by a combined 163-31 margin, the question as to when Florida State will become a national power once again has been answered.
With Florida State leading 35-0 in the second quarter, Fisher even made a decision reminiscent to one that helped the legendary Bowden develop his riverboat gambler reputation. Facing a 4th-and-7 near midfield, Florida State called a fake punt that was converted for a first down on a 17-yard run from junior running back Karlos Williams. The fake punt would eventually set up a score to make it 42-0.
“We had a chance and we wanted to run it,” said Fisher. “There was on old story one time a guy told me who coached a long time ago. He was up 35-8 at halftime on a big time rival, took his foot off the gas, lost the momentum of the game and they came back to beat him 36-35,” claimed Fisher. “You know who that gentleman was? It was Bobby Bowden when Pitt was playing West Virginia.”
In Fisher’s fourth year, Florida State has finally re-asserted itself as one of the nation’s elite. Fisher has fully revived the program that his predecessor built. It was just nice that Bowden was on hand to witness the fruits of his labor once again running at full capacity.