TALLAHASSEE — It was about history.
When Florida State and Clemson met in 1999, the Seminoles' Bobby Bowden and the Tigers' first-year coach, Tommy Bowden, became the first father and son to coach against one another in major college football.
The "Bowden Bowl" was anticipated and celebrated.
One of the last images from that night was of Ann Bowden, the matriarch of the family, donning a sweater that was half FSU and half Clemson, beaming and cheering as her husband's and son's teams delivered a classic. FSU pulled out a dramatic 17-14 win that would be the tightest game in an undefeated, national championship season.
But as the years brought heat on both coaches, the annual game not only lost its appeal for the Bowdens, it created a downright stressful situation for the tight-knit family.
Ann didn't make the trip to Clemson last year.
And she had no intention to make the short drive across town for today's game.
"I don't want to sit there and watch it happen, and I don't want to act like I'm not pulling for us; we've got all our people around us and I don't want to be disloyal to them," she said of her rationale. "A mother's love goes deeper than a love for a school or anything else. Sometimes even a husband."
Her plans changed last month.
Tommy Bowden resigned under pressure, effective Oct. 13.
Instead of the 10th edition of the "Bowden Bowl," the game reverted to its pre-1999 relevance — merely the next date, albeit a big one in the ACC standings, for both the No. 24-ranked Seminoles (6-2, 3-2) and the Tigers (4-4, 2-3).
"We like that," said Papa Bowden, who turns 79 today. "It was getting where Ann, she just got so tired. … She wants me to win. She wants Tommy to win. When Tommy and I play, she can't win. One of us is going to get beat. Of course, I didn't like it either 'cause I don't like it when he beats me and when I beat him I feel for him. I am so happy."
'A lot more relaxed'
Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach turned analyst and Yahoo Sports columnist, said he is frequently asked which teams are his favorites. His pat answer has been: West Virginia (his alma mater) and whichever teams his family coached.
"That's kind of a family rule," he said.
For the past nine years, that presented a conundrum when FSU and Clemson played.
"Absolutely it's going to be a lot more enjoyable to watch the game and not have to pull so evenly for both teams," he said. "All of us will be a lot more relaxed."
"Now I can cheer (just) for Florida State," his mother added. "It's going to be nice."
When did the fun go out of the "Bowden Bowl" for her and her kin? Perhaps the 2003 meeting.
When No. 3 FSU (8-1) visited Clemson on Nov. 8 that year, the Tigers (5-4) were struggling and Tommy's job seemed to be in jeopardy. But the Tigers beat FSU handily, 26-10, ending an 11-game losing streak to the Seminoles and igniting a season-ending four-game winning streak that earned the younger Bowden a seven-year contract extension.
"I was standing outside the (FSU) locker room and all the fans were passing down in front of me and I was hollering, you know how mothers are, I said, 'Okay. Now maybe he can get a better job than this,' " Ann Bowden recalled. "There were about five patrolmen standing behind me and I turned around and said, 'Is something wrong?' They said, 'Nah. We're just here to watch over you.' I guess they thought somebody was really going to let me have it."
In the ensuing years, she has had to stand around and hear Clemson fans continue to criticize Tommy for underachieving as well as the ones in Tallahassee criticize another son, Jeff, FSU's offensive coordinator from 2001-2006.
Then and now, she hasn't always stood by silently.
Her husband, as is his nature, is more stoic, at least publicly.
"He loves the business, and he understands the business," she said. "But it doesn't mean he likes it. Even though he loves Tommy and doesn't want him to hurt, he walks out on the field and it's even-steven; it's me against you. He wanted to win as much as Tommy did. He didn't have the same feelings that I did. A mother just hates to see her son disappointed or hurt, but a dad just accepts it more. … I don't think it bothered Bobby quite as much, but it bothered him."
Bobby Bowden said there's one thing he might miss today and that's seeing his son out on the field before the game. The two would phone each other weekly during the season, but not to chat about their teams.
That hasn't changed.
"I'll be honest with you, Tommy and I have talked maybe three or four times since he left Clemson and we have not mentioned one Clemson player. Not one," he said. "It just hasn't come across my mind and he would be deathly self-conscious about it."
He even expects his son to root against him and for the Tigers.
"He had 10 wonderful years up there at Clemson, he'll tell you that himself," Bowden said. "He left there on a good note, as far as he was concerned. I just wish he could have made them happy, but he couldn't do it. So I really have no animosity toward them.
"And then of course, (interim coach) Dabo Swinney, Tommy coached him at Alabama and kind of raised him, nearly. So I like him."
Swinney, like Papa Bowden, is a native of Birmingham, Ala. His mother graduated from the same high school as Bowden, Woodlawn High. He counts spending time with Bowden in his office a few years ago when he and Tommy were in Tallahassee on a recruiting trip as "one of the most awesome days that I've ever had in my life."
"It's a great honor, just a real privilege, to go to the middle of the field and shake his hand," he said. "(But) very unusual and awkward under the circumstances."
'You never know'
Don't be too quick to say the "Bowden Bowl" is history.
It might merely be on hiatus. Terry and Jeff Bowden both want to get back into coaching. Tommy might also return to the business, though his mother isn't sure he has that desire.
"I don't want to see them lining up against each other, I really don't, but you never know," she said. "If it happens, it happens. Thank goodness Bobby's almost out of it. Maybe by the time they settle into another job, he'll be ready to retire. If he's not ready in a couple of years, I've told him, 'Come and see me over at the beach.' "
The possibility of another father-son matchup will not be a factor for Terry, who would've made history in 1999 had he not resigned under pressure at Auburn the season before; Auburn and FSU were scheduled to meet before the Clemson game.
"Would I pick not playing Dad over coaching?" Terry said. "I don't think any of us would do that. But it's not as much fun as people make it out to be."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.
Today's state games
No. 24 FSU vs. Clemson
3:30 p.m., Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee TV/radio: Ch. 28; 1470-AM, 1040-AM Line: FSU by 4 Weather: Sunny, 72, 10 percent chance of rain
No. 4 Florida at Vanderbilt
8 p.m., Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville TV/radio: ESPN2; 970-AM Line: Florida by 23½ Weather: Partly cloudy, 49, wind 10-12 mph