At Florida State, the only rank that counts is No. 1 Fans blame Bowden for lack of national title

November 05, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

There's a faction of folks down in Tallahassee who are still bemoaning Florida State's three-point loss at Miami last month, still talking about how longtime Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden blew another big one, still cursing the football gods who are keeping the national championship just out of their grasp.

And then there are the letters on Bowden's desk.

"About 75 percent of them are positive," Bowden was saying by telephone from his office earlier this week, between film sessions and practices for Saturday's homecoming game against Maryland at Doak Campbell Stadium. "They think it's a big deal that we won the ACC championship."

Call them the silent majority. They aren't the ones who called Bowden's radio show a few days after Florida State's 36-13 victory over North Carolina to talk about the 19-16 loss to Miami the week before. They aren't the ones writing nasty letters to the local newspaper suggesting, as the coach said, "that Bowden is getting too old."

Florida State has done the expected in its first Atlantic Coast Conference season: win all of its league games. Last week's 13-3 victory over Virginia in Charlottesville clinched the ACC championship for the Seminoles. An anticipated victory over the Terrapins would make the Seminoles the first ACC team to go unbeaten and untied in the league since Maryland in 1985.

"I think it's [the ACC title] a consolation," said Bowden, who will turn 63 Sunday. "It could be a big consolation. In the past, as an independent, we couldn't control what would happen to us, if we were going to one of the big four New Year's Day bowls or not. Thanks to winning the conference, we know we're going to one of the big ones."

Though the players celebrated their first ACC championship by popping open bottles of non-alcoholic champagne and by shaving the head of running backs coach Billy Sexton, it still seemed to be a hollow victory for some. Or, as junior linebacker Ken Alexander said: "It feels nice. It'll do until we get another shot at Miami."

At most schools, a No. 6 national ranking and a 7-1 record would make everyone happy. A few years ago, it might have satisfied the fans at Florida State as well. But having won 11 games in

three of the past five seasons, and at least 10 in each of those years, Bowden understands how spoiled his team's supporters have become.

"If we don't win double-digits, they're going to say, 'Bowden's too old.' I can see it coming," he said. "But I'd rather have it this way than the other side of the coin."

For the first time in recent memory, some of the criticism has been directed at Bowden by the national media as well as ex-players. An immensely popular figure throughout the state, Bowden took some shots after the Miami loss for his strategy.

Before the Miami game, former All-American Terrell Buckley was quoted in the local newspaper saying that Bowden's play-calling had cost the Seminoles "a couple of national championships." After it, Sports Illustrated took Bowden to task for his team's lackadaisical play down the stretch.

Though he has since straightened things out with Buckley, the pressure on Bowden remains. He once said jokingly that "I have a lifetime contract . . . until I lose to Miami and Florida in the same year." That happened last year, when Florida State lost back to back to the Hurricanes and Gators. The Seminoles close the regular season at home against Florida on Nov. 28.

"I don't like it, but I expect it," Bowden said of the criticism. "I've become accustomed to it. It's the trend these days. I'm an optimistic person. I'd like to think that we're going to beat them eight years in a row. But now they're saying, 'He can't beat Miami'. That's what's going to be on my tombstone, '. . . but he couldn't beat Miami . . .' "

But Florida State has beaten everybody else this season, and it hasn't been easy. That, too, has been part of the problem. Some of their fans thought the Seminoles would rip through the ACC, but it hasn't happened. Florida State came from behind to beat Clemson and from 14 points down to beat Georgia Tech.

It didn't seem to matter that the ACC's newcomer had the toughest schedule in the league, with last year's four top finishers on the road. The league's other coaches have praised the Seminoles -- "They're the class of the league," said Virginia coach George Welsh -- but the opposing players have not.

"I feel like everyone thought we were going to go into the ACC and blow teams out every week," said senior offensive tackle Robert Stevenson. "And when we beat teams, they would say things like, 'Florida State's not as good as we thought.' Everyone the ACC wants to see us fall."

It probably won't happen this week. A record crowd of 66,000 at recently expanded Doak Campbell Stadium will be screaming and tomahawking and cheering on their beloved Seminoles on Saturday against Maryland. But no matter the score, no matter the size of the victory, a few Florida State fans won't be happy.

"The die-hards never are," said Bowden.

Close, but no No. 1

7+ Florida State's run under Bobby Bowden:

Year .... Rec. .... Rank

1976 .... 5-6 ..... NR

1977 .... 10-2 .... No. 14

1978 .... 8-3 ..... NR

1979 .... 11-1 .... No. 6

1980 .... 10-2 .... No. 5

1981 .... 6-5 ..... NR

1982 .... 9-3 ..... No. 13

1983 .... 8-4 ..... NR

1984 .... 7-3-2 ... No. 17

1985 .... 9-3 ..... No. 15

1986 .... 7-4-1 ... NR

1987 .... 11-1 .... No. 2

1988 .... 11-1 .... No. 3

1989 .... 10-2 .... No. 3

1990 .... 10-2 .... No. 4

1991 .... 11-2 .... No. 4

1992 .... 7-1 ..... No. 6

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