JACKSONVILLE — As his players stretched on the field and fans and media milled on the sideline, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden confessed he hadn't realized the significance of Wednesday's practice session.
It would be his final one.
Bowden will retire after the Seminoles' game against West Virginia in Friday's Gator Bowl.
"I hadn't thought about it until you said it," he said when asked about his last practice. "Those (things) are not in my mind. It's not like I sit here (and think), 'Oh, this is the last day. Oh, this is the last this.' It's the last thing I want to think about really."
Although he said he's focused on the now and the Mountaineers, he has been stretched like taffy by the requests of local organizers, who see this game as a chance to give Bowden a proper send-off. Part of that will be his final walk with his team into Jacksonville Municipal Stadium at 10:30 Friday morning.
"As long as it don't lead to the cemetery. Is there a cemetery out there?" Bowden said, joking. "Be sure it leads to the stadium.
"Of course, a coach would prefer not to do (the off-field activities). But these people have been so darn good, I feel like I need to do everything I can for them. I appreciate everything they're doing, but if we were playing for the national championship, I'd probably say I can't do all of that."
But even with extra demands, he did make it to practices.
Even the last one.
Like Tim Tebow … sort of: When asked about Tim Tebow saying goodbye, at least to the college game, on Friday, Bowden simply gushed about the Florida quarterback's legacy.
"He's probably as recognized as any player in the history of college football and a role model; the opposite of some of these guys saying, 'I'm not a role model and I'm not going to be a role model,' " Bowden said. "He's a successful role model. Wherever I rank, it'll be somewhere behind him. I know that."
Ties that bind: West Virginia coach Bill Stewart was a freshman at the school in 1970, the first of Bowden's six as coach there, and he has fond memories of him.
"Coach Bowden was gracious to let me walk on," said Stewart, who was a skinny (177 pounds) linebacker/long snapper from New Martinsville.
Stewart said he was a tag-along with his prep teammate and lifetime pal, Wib Newton. Stewart transferred after one year to tiny Fairmont State so he could play.
"I try to coach and treat people from what I learned from him," he said. "I try to emulate him. I think Coach Bowden's the greatest that's ever been."