TALLAHASSEE — To a man, the players insisted the criticism directed at coach Bobby Bowden last week in no way affected their performance against Georgia Tech.
Bowden even made it a point to tell them before Saturday night's kickoff that the game wasn't about him and "there was too much to do over my welfare" as his future beyond this season was called into question.
But the chatter wasn't simply white noise with no effect.
The players came out of the tunnel, walking arm-in-arm with Bowden front and center. Senior LB Dekoda Watson suggested that entrance and, while Bowden wasn't thrilled with the attention, he acquiesced. In fact, the 79-year-old coach had told the players to break formation at the 5-yard line and race to the bench. They refused. They wanted to walk him all the way to the bench area.
"We wanted to go out there and make a statement," Watson said. "You aren't going to come into our house, or nobody on the outside is going to come in, and try to mess up our home. You're not going to come in here and try to disrespect Coach Bowden and the team. That's just a statement to anybody out there hating on us and trying to get Coach Bowden out of here."
"We weren't worried about it, and when we came out walking with Coach Bowden, that kind of symbolized everything — nothing affects us," QB Christian Ponder echoed. "We're a team. We're a family. And nothing's going to come between that."
Speaking of retiring: Bowden said he believes it will be his decision to make after the season, which is how his understanding with president T.K. Wetherell has worked. Of course, in wake of the 49-44 loss to Georgia Tech, FSU's third straight, Bowden knows the criticism will mount.
"What do you do now? You're 2-4 and all you can do is play one game at a time, be concerned with this game (at North Carolina on Oct. 22) and then after the year, decide about the (next) year; are you going to try to continue or not?" he said Sunday morning.
One thing he is certain of is he doesn't want a "farewell tour."
"I think it would be distracting from the players," he said, adding that when he does retire, he wants to leave town so the "next guy will have freedom and won't have me looking over his shoulder and people saying, 'Why don't you do it like he did it?' That's one reason I hate to say when I'm going to leave. Everybody starts working toward that date."
In case you were wondering: FSU didn't attempt an onside kick with 4:14 left and down 49-44. Freshman Dustin Hopkins was supposed to boot it high to about the 30 and mis-hit the ball; Tech got it at the FSU 44. "That was just poor execution of what you were trying to do," Bowden said. The Yellow Jackets converted a pair of third-down plays and ran out the clock.
Injury update: In addition to senior TE Caz Piurowski leaving after the first series with a right knee injury (he's set for a MRI exam today), sophomore DE Jamar Jackson injured his left knee in the first half and didn't return, Watson was slowed for much of the second half with a left groin strain, and freshman CB Xavier Rhodes broke his left thumb.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347