MIAMI -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has been at this bowl business so long and been so good at it, he could probably coach his Seminoles tonight with his eyes closed. Certainly, he didn't have to hear that there were still tickets available for the Orange Bowl to know what was missing from this game against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
"I can tell we're not playing to be No. 1 or No. 2," Bowden said. "There is no national championship on the line. I can tell the difference in the atmosphere. This year, we're just playing for pride and fun."
There is a little more to it than that, however. Bowden is the NCAA's top bowl coach of all time with a 14-3-1 record, and he and his Seminoles have an NCAA-record 13-game postseason unbeaten string on the line.
One more bowl win and he'll tie former Alabama coach Bear Bryant for all-time postseason wins.
"I don't mention that too much," Bowden said. "If it's something I used to motivate my kids, it would be just as strong for Notre Dame to use to motivate theirs. So we don't talk too much about it. I won't harp on it. I'll just talk to the team about finishing as high as we can in terms of preparing for next season."
But it was too late to keep the record -- which includes a current 10-game winning streak -- under wraps going into tonight's game.
"The Streak" was the first thing Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz wanted to talk about.
"Florida State has won 10 consecutive bowl games," said Holtz. "That's amazing. That and being unbeaten in 13 straight. I'm excited to see what my team can do against them.
"But the thing is, I spent this morning with Bobby, and you can't be around Bobby without feeling good. He's such a nice guy, you come away hoping he wins the ballgame."
For his part, Bowden says being around Holtz, his friend of 30 years, drives him nuts.
"He's such a psychologist," says Bowden, who holds a 4-3 edge over Holtz in postseason meetings. "He's the world's best at saying things with hidden meanings. You're not sure what he means, but you know it's something.
"I've watched his quarterback [backup Tom Krug] against Air Force and against Navy, and watching him, I can't see much difference between him and [starter Ron Powlus]. Heck, they've won two straight with him.
"Ad then I hear Lou say, 'The guy can't run a lick,' and I find myself spending my time trying to figure out the motive behind the statement. Did he say it because he can't run, because he wants me to think he can't run, or because he wants me to think he can run when he really can't?"
It isn't easy being a successful coach, but Bowden spends little time thinking about it. "Streaks and records are nice, but they don't mean much to me right now," he said.
Bowden isn't even sure how they happen, any more than he can figure out why his team is a 10 1/2 -point favorite tonight.
Notre Dame, he points out, finished the regular season with a six-game winning streak. Florida State started the season with a seven-game winning streak -- winning by such big margins, Bowden admitted yesterday, that he was getting bored -- but ended by losing two of its last four games, to Virginia and Florida.
"Talking about this bowl streak, I just can't enjoy it right now," he said. "If I did, I'd risk trying to play off the past instead of making things happen in the present. When I'm finished coaching, I'll figure out what they mean."
Right now, he says, "I just want to win."
To do that he believes his team will need a balanced attack. On that point, he is in agreement with Holtz, who said the same is true of his squad.
"We're not going to get off the bus passing, but we are going to have to pass," Holtz said.
"And we're going to have to run," said Bowden.
Bowden sees the contrast in styles -- Notre Dame's physical style vs. Florida State's finesse -- shaping itself into "a great ballgame," like a boxing match between a slugger and a boxer.
"You get two sluggers and you don't get much of a match," Bowden said. "They just go out there and hug each other all night. But you get a slugger and a boxer and you've got a chance for a good match."
Bowling 'em over
In bowls, Florida State has a 10-game winning streak and an NCAA-record 13-game unbeaten streak:
'82 Gator: FSU 31, W. Virginia 12
'83 Peach: FSU 28, N. Carolina 3
'84 Citrus: FSU 17, Georgia 17
'85 Gator: FSU 34, Okla. State 23
'86 All-Amer.: FSU 27, Indiana 13
'88 Fiesta: FSU 31, Nebraska 28
'89 Sugar: FSU 13, Auburn 7
'90 Fiesta: FSU 41, Nebraska 17
'91 Blockbuster: FSU 24, Penn St. 17
'92 Cotton: FSU 10, Texas A&M 2
'93 Orange: FSU 27, Nebraska 14
'94 Orange: FSU 18, Nebraska 16
'95 Sugar: FSU 23, Florida 17
L Note: From 1988 to '95, bowls listed were played in January.