JACKSONVILLE — Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said the reality that today's Gator Bowl will be his final game has sunk in, not that he has paid any attention to it.
"The way I feel, it's another ball game and, then of course, when the game is over it'll be my last one. It's not a big deal to me," he said Thursday.
Well, after Wednesday morning's final practice, his last one, he and his players shared a poignant moment. They huddled at midfield as usual, but this time the players put a hand on Bowden, and team chaplain Clint Purvis led them in a prayer.
"Is it emotional for me? It's gratifying and I thank them for doing that and it's meaningful to me," said Bowden, who later served as grand marshal of the Gator Bowl parade and tooled around town in a red Corvette convertible. "The thing I'll miss the most is the guys. The thing I'll miss the most, no doubt, is the boys. And not just the ones who are here. I'll miss the (Chris) Weinkes. I'll miss the (Charlie) Wards. I'll miss the Ron Simmons. I'm sure I'll run into them somewhere, but it's the people you've been with that you miss. That's part of life. Gee whiz, there's more to life to me than football, folks."
FSU is expecting more than 300 former Seminoles to be at the game, lining up as Bowden and his players walk into the stadium. (Bowden, in vintage form, quipped he hopes there's some folks waiting for them on the walk; "You ever try to slap a hand and there ain't one there.")
"I think I'm truly blessed," senior LB Dekoda Watson said. "Yes, it's going to be very emotional out there. I know once we hit the field there's going to be a lot of people out there supporting Bobby Bowden, whether it's West Virginia or Florida State (fans). It's going to be a very special moment, and it's going to be emotional for all of us."
Coming full circle: Bowden said he couldn't be happier about being in the Gator Bowl, saying his Seminoles (6-6) were "very fortunate" to receive the invitation and it "seems like it was meant to be."
After he took the Florida State job in January 1976, the first stop on his inaugural spring tour of booster clubs was Jacksonville.
"That's kind of where we started," he said. "It's also where it's going to end."
Where's the love? Although the Mountaineers understand the attention the Seminoles and Bowden have received the last few weeks, senior LB Reed Williams said they feel somewhat slighted.
"It's weird," he said. "We continue to win football games, but we still don't get the respect we deserve."
The final word: "If I could have won some more ball games, I'd have signed another five-year contract with the way I feel. I feel good, you know it? But I didn't win enough daggum games to deserve it." — Bowden