TALLAHASSEE — Soon the game would begin, and a new era along with it. Soon there would be touchdowns and cheers and fresh hope.
For now, there was only a man walking toward a field and the memory of the legend whose name it bears.
It was late morning on Saturday, and Jimbo Fisher, FSU head coach, walked through the tunnel and toward the spotlight. This was his time, and his team, and his program. After 23 years of coaching, he was finally in charge, and soon it would be time to start measuring him against the old man.
In that quiet moment, Fisher, too, thought about Bobby Bowden.
"Every time I've ever walked onto that field, I think about him," Fisher said. "Every time I look up and see 'Bobby Bowden Field.' People don't understand what the man meant to me and how I look to him.
"When I walked out for the pregame, I was thinking some things. How many times he walked through that tunnel. How many times he'd been there and what he'd done. How he thought. Wondering what he thought the first time he ever walked out."
This moment had been ordained for so long, since FSU anointed Fisher as Bowden's replacement in 2007, through all the noise and all the disappointment of a program that had slipped into mediocrity, through the ugliness of Bowden being pushed aside a year ago. Even now, it has been four months since Bowden and Fisher spoke. Bowden seems to have taken his ouster hard, and of the more than 100 goodwill messages Fisher received before the game, one from Bowden was not among them. A shame, that. Bowden and FSU were too good for each other for ill feelings to linger.
Still, Fisher refers to Bowden as "my hero," and a moment such as this one does not pass without reflection.
That said, yeah, Bowden probably would have been pleased with what he saw Saturday.
For openers, the new guy did fairly well. It wasn't just that FSU won by 50 over an outmanned Samford team, it was that the Seminoles looked crisp, fast and focused as they did it. FSU scored 42 points in the first half, and if you didn't know better, you might think Fisher was mad at Samford for all that homework he was given when he was in school there.
Okay, okay. This was Samford, for crying out loud, one of those gimmie putts of an opponent you play when you want to win and Stony Brook isn't available. As bad as things have gotten at FSU, the Seminoles still ought to beat Samford by 50.
On the other hand, FSU has been tripping over games such as this for years. Remember Jacksonville State last year (when FSU had to come back in the fourth quarter to win)? Remember UAB two years ago (when FSU trailed 17-0 at the half)? Remember Troy the year before that (when FSU trailed in the fourth quarter)?
So, yeah, it was encouraging to see FSU beat a small team the way it should beat a small team. There for a while, it looked as if FSU might be accused of running up the score. Which, considering the past few years, would have been a grand thing. When the Seminoles were good, opponents used to say that all the time.
Not lately. The Seminoles have won 30 games the past four years, and that counts the 12 the NCAA has taken away for academic troubles. Lately, FSU could have changed its name to Baylor and not a lot of people would have noticed.
Fisher's job is to fix all that. His vision, he says, is to get FSU back into the national championship hunt. With the resources available, he says, he doesn't think it will take a lot of time.
Does that mean happy days are here again? Of course not. There is only so much you can tell from the way a coach says hello. Bowden lost his first three games. Larry Jones won his first five. There will be a lot of games and a lot of plays before Fisher's legacy is established. The first real test comes this week against Oklahoma.
For now, for the first time in 34 years, there is a new man in charge at FSU. If he can leave all his opponents looking like Samford, he might work out after all.