For Bowdens, cheers, tears

January 02, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

TEMPE, Ariz. -- They are gathered here, more than 30 family members, hunkered down in a string of rooms and suites at a nearby resort in Scottsdale. When it comes to visiting with the grandparents, the Bowdens do it in style.

Of course, they wouldn't be here, soaking up the Arizona sun, if it were not for second-ranked Florida State being invited to play top-ranked Tennessee in Monday night's Fiesta Bowl.

And most of them wouldn't be here, literally speaking, if it were not for Ann and Bobby Bowden.

It has been a tumultuous season for college football's first family, one in which tears were shed for the joy of Tommy Bowden's unbeaten season at Tulane and subsequent move back into the big time, as well as the despair of Terry Bowden's fallen star and fractured career at Auburn.

And, of course, for the utter surprise of Bobby Bowden's second chance at a national title.

``It's been a very bittersweet year,'' said Ann Bowden, ``but one that could have a happy ending.''

Ann Bowden recalled how most of the family spent Thanksgiving at Terry's farm a few weeks after he was forced to resign during his sixth year at Auburn. The midseason resignation had set off a firestorm of controversy after athletic director David Housel insisted that Bowden had not been pushed out, but had quit on his team in midseason.

``We watched on television when Tommy Tuberville was named the head coach at Auburn, and that was tough,'' said Ann Bowden, the mother of six and grandmother of 21. ``As a mother, any time one of your children is going through a difficult time, it's difficult for you, too. But that's the nature of the coaching profession.''

At the same time Terry Bowden was going through his first losing season at Auburn -- the Tigers were 1-5 this year after going 46-12-1 his previous five years, Tommy Bowden was putting together the season's Cinderella story at Tulane.

A perennial doormat, the Green Wave was the only team aside from Tennessee to finish the regular season 11-0. (Tommy Bowden left for Clemson shortly after Tulane was invited to the Liberty Bowl, where the Green Wave finished 12-0 with a win over Brigham Young.)

``I tell you what, the more I look at things, and check out the comparable scores, I think Tulane should be playing Tennessee and not Florida State,'' Tommy Bowden joked last month.

Of course, if that had happened, Tommy Bowden, 44, wouldn't have been coaching. He had already replaced Tommy West at Clemson and taken Jack Hines, his brother-in-law and secondary coach, with him. They won't be here for the Fiesta Bowl, where all but three of the grandkids have gathered.

They will be getting ready for next season, which will include the first sideline matchup between Bobby Bowden and one of his sons. Coincindentally, Florida State and Auburn are scheduled to play next season as well, a game that might give new meaning to the word ``payback.''

Tommy Bowden had empathy for what his brother went through, having been a member of Pat Dye's staff when Dye was fired six years ago.

``You understand the mind-set of this profession,'' said Tommy Bowden, who remained on his brother's staff at Auburn until taking the Tulane job two years ago. ``If you stay in it long enough, you will be humbled. This was the first time Terry had ever been humbled.''

Bobby Bowden has never been fired from any of the three head coaching jobs he has held in 33 seasons. Then again, when you put together a 292-84 record that includes going 16-4-1 in bowl games, it's hard to give anyone reason.

The closest Bowden came to losing his job was in 1974, when West Virginia finished 4-7. He was 42 at the time, the same age as Terry Bowden is now.

``When my situation happened he told me that the same thing almost happened to him and he saved his job by the skin of his teeth,'' Terry Bowden said yesterday. ``Two years later, he was at Florida State and now he's playing for a chance at his second national championship.''

Terry Bowden was with his father in Miami five years ago when the Seminoles beat Nebraska to win the first championship. That was the same year Terry Bowden had taken Auburn to an 11-0 record while the Tigers were still on NCAA probation.

``I can't say that going to practice this year has been as much fun as it was in '93, because then it was nice to be seen,'' Terry Bowden said. ``But I'm still enjoying this because you never know how many more years he'll be at it.''

Don't expect Bobby Bowden to do the same thing Nebraska's Tom Osborne did after his Cornhuskers shared last year's national championship -- retire. Bowden figures that he's three years and 14 victories behind Penn State's Joe Paterno, who doesn't seem to be slowing up either.

``I'm amazed at how well I feel,'' said Bowden, 69. ``I have never felt it's a struggle. As long as I feel good and we keep winning, I'll keep coaching.''

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