JACKSONVILLE — With his wife, Ann, at his side and his coaches trailing behind him, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden strolled from the team buses to the stadium as thousands of former players and fans lined the pathway and cheered him on passionately.
It was the first time Bowden ever had a "walk," and he quipped that he hoped it didn't lead to the "cemetery" and hoped it would be a success — that there would be people there.
"You ever try to slap a hand and there ain't one there," he said.
Not too worry. Not even rain, wind and cold could dampen the enthusiasm of a crowd that included Derrick Brooks and Chris Weinke. Some fans arrived an hour early to get a spot along the rail. With the FSU band playing the fight song, Bowden, protected by an umbrella, made his way to their roars and chops.
"It's turned from a game into an event," said Brooks, the former Bucs star. "This whole situation has brought about a lot of firsts and that's a thing you look to remember. The positive situations."
Said Bowden later: "That was the most emotional thing I have had. I was determined I ain't crying. I ain't crying. … But I tell you what. The closest I came is when I walked through them players and the fans. That was pretty tough."
Looking back: Bowden was asked for the umpteenth time in the last month, since he announced he would be retiring, if he had any regrets. He had been saying no but offered an exception.
"I wanted 400 (wins) so bad," said Bowden, who ends with 389. "I wanted 400 so bad because I felt like, well, (Penn State's) Joe (Paterno) is going to beat me (for the Division I-A record) … and if I could just get to 400, it would be me and him. I could hang around with him and follow him around a little bit. I wanted 400 but didn't get a shot at it."
More fanfare: About 10 minutes before the opening kickoff, fans saw a video tribute to Bowden, then the coach and Ann came on the field, where the Gator Bowl Association presented him the keys to a 2010 Toyota Camry.
"Thank you so much for this car; I don't know what Ann's going to drive," Bowden said. He later planted the Seminoles' flaming spear into the logo at midfield for the first time.
"I used to try to throw a javelin in college and it would just kill me when it wouldn't stick up," he said. "I was wondering if that thing was going to stick. But I got it on my first shot so I could be a pretty good spear thrower, I believe."
Crowded house: The Gator Bowl Association announced that 85,719 tickets were sold and distributed and the game drew a Gator Bowl-record 84,129.
Catching on: West Virginia junior WR Jock Sanders, a former St. Petersburg Catholic star, moved into sole possession of 11th place in Big East history by extending his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 28.
Another game left: FSU LB Dekoda Watson and CB Patrick Robinson have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Ala. Said Watson, "I'm just glad to have the opportunity."