CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — No more half orange-half maroon sweatshirts, divided loyalties or hurt feelings. College football’s most famous family no longer has to sweat the Bowden Bowl.
Since father Bobby and son Tommy first faced off in 1999, the yearly Florida State-Clemson matchup turned from a celebration of the family legacy into a game no Bowden looked forward to. These days with son Tommy retired, father Bobby is glad the focus is back on football when the teams play at Death Valley on Saturday night.
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“It does take that part away,” the Seminoles longtime coach said.
It’s the first trip to Clemson since 1997 where Bobby hasn’t had to out-scheme his second-oldest son. And it was not always the happiest of family reunions, Bobby acknowledged. No matter the stakes for Florida State, “still, your boy’s on the other side coaching,” Bobby Bowden said.
Few saw potential problems in 1999 when Bobby led No. 1 Florida State, the eventual national champions, to play his son’s new Clemson program in Division I’s first father-son battle. TV cameras tracked the Bowdens from the high-school game of Tommy’s son the night before to a prayer meeting on Saturday morning. Tommy’s mother, Ann, donned a half Florida State-half Clemson sweatshirt in the stands. By the time the Seminoles capped the Bowden-palooza with Bobby’s 300th career victory, most all Bowdens, even Tommy, left with smiles on their faces.
The good feelings didn’t last.
Florida State won the next three in blowout fashion, increasing the heat on Tommy’s tenure. When Clemson turned things around in 2003 with a 26-10 win over the third-ranked Seminoles, it was the Florida State coach who dealt with critics, a few who concocted the crazy notion Bobby threw the game on purpose to save his son’s job.
The back-and-forth got so bad, Ann didn’t attend the last Bowden Bowl at Clemson in 2007. “I just didn’t have the heart to sit out there and see one of them lose,” she said last fall.
Despite winning four of his last five against Florida State, Tommy couldn’t keep his job, leaving at midseason in 2008 with the Tigers all but out of the Atlantic Coast Conference race. The school says the change was Tommy’s suggestion. Tommy said this summer he was forced out.
So with emotions raw last November, Clemson interim coach Dabo Swinney thought he might get a cold shoulder from his old boss’s dad in Tallahassee. Instead, Bobby was supportive and gracious about the change.
“You can imagine the awkwardness with it being his son that’s no longer here,” Swinney said. But “he has just been tremendous, just very encouraging and complimentary.”
“You know, I’m getting pretty good at that,” joked Bobby, who’s watched three sons leave high-profile coaching jobs. Besides Tommy, Terry Bowden had a successful run at Auburn that ended in turmoil 11 years ago. Youngest son Jeff was Florida State’s offensive coordinator until he resigned in 2006 after several years of declining production.
Tommy, 55, says he’d like to get back into the profession and will wait to see what develops in the next few weeks. He’s proud of the Clemson players he molded his last few years there and, as an analyst for BusterSports.com, thinks the Tigers have the edge over his father’s team this week.
Tommy is receiving a $3.5 million contract buyout from Clemson in twice yearly installments through 2014. He, too, acknowledged the difficulty in facing family and was glad he could win a few games — 4-5 against Florida State — against the man he considers the best in college football.
Tommy’s children, Ryan and Lauren, are both Clemson grads and may attend the game this week. Tommy will stay in Florida and watch on TV, long after the sun sets on his 5-mile run on the beach and the daily walk he takes with wife, Linda. “It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday,” Bowden said.
Tommy has no hard feelings toward Clemson, his father said. “That’s the way you ought to leave a job,” Bobby said. “No sense burning bridges.”
Even without Bowden vs. Bowden, there are plenty of compelling storylines in this latest matchup.
Bobby Bowden plays this one a day before his 80th birthday, needing victory to keep his 4-4 team in ACC contention. Earlier this week, Bowden’s longtime defensive leader, Mickey Andrews, announced he’d retire after the season with some Florida State backers asking Bobby to join him.
A win by the Tigers would move them a step closer to where Tommy could never get them in nine-plus seasons — the ACC championship game.
Should that happen, Swinney won’t be surprised if he gets a congratulatory call from Bobby. “He’s just as nice a guy as you ever want to meet,” Swinney said. “I wish him nothing but the best and hope he coaches 10 more years if that’s what he wants to do.”