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Even After All These Years, Without Coach Bowden, It's Just Not the Same Game

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I have to admit, I am 47 years old and I have been following this rivalry since 1983. I might sound like an old man telling stories to his grandchildren, but my kids are just entering college themselves and they have heard these stories before. However, there is nothing that rivals the Miami-FSU series from a football perspective that we see on this side of the pond. Tomorrow night's game will another chapter in that great book that we call the annals of historic UM football games that we have with our friends from the Northwest part of the state. However, there is going to be one Southern Gentleman missing from the game that will never be able to be replaced.

The Greatest Of Them All: Former FSU Coach Bobby Bowden
The Greatest Of Them All: Former FSU Coach Bobby Bowden
Jeff Gammons

As a member of the media for many years, I have been part of what could be the greatest rivalry in all of college sports, the UM-Florida State football series.  For almost 30 years I have seen the greatest players and the greatest coaches take the field for this game. I have laughed and I have cried and I have laid awake thinking about what could have been.

Tonight will prove to be no different as I will be tossing and turning and thinking about what Brad Kaaya needs to do to stay out of trouble and I will be worrying about whether or not the offensive line can get enough push to open the holes necessary for Duke Johnson and Joe Yearby to run through so we can achieve balance.

This series will continue to get better and Coach Golden and this year's team will have an opportunity to put the game back on it's rightful course and place on the college football mantle. They will be able to shock the world and show ESPN's College Game Day crew that they should be here and not in Tuscaloosa.

However, tomorrow night will lack one thing that will never come back.

It will not have former FSU coach Bobby Bowden, arguably the game's greatest head coach, on the FSU sidelines. When FSU unceremoniously parted ways with Coach Bowden, one of the game's most classy and distinguishable fellows, and replaced him with Jimbo Fisher, the game changed and some of the shine disappeared. It will just never be the same.

Some of the greatest games in this series have featured the Southern Gentleman on one sideline with Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson or Howard Schnellenberger on the other.  Those days can be remembered, but they will never occur again. That is a shame for those that never got to witness it. Every college football fan should have an idol like Bobby Bowden, but unfortunately, there are none in the game right now. The game is too corporate and too transient. You would never see coach Bowden leave for another school or jump to the NFL, despite the plethora of offers that he could have had. In his day, you just did not do things like that. Coach Bowden is a man of morals, a man of principals and he could not be bought. He was a G-d fearing man that answered to one Man.

When I was in high school, I knew that I was not leaving the state to go to college. There was no reason to leave as we had great schools in Florida, and I did not want to be that far away from home. There was still laundry that needed to be done and meals that needed to be cooked. I was also told that once you had sand in your shoes, you could not trade them in for snow boots.

I decided early on that I would attend either Miami or Florida State. I chose Florida State as I was not much of a student and in the event that the whole college thing did not work out, I did not want my parents to waste a lot of money. I settled on Florida State because I loved college football and I loved Bobby Bowden. He was my Bear Bryant growing up and there was no one in sports that I worshiped more.

When I got to Tallahassee I got to meet the Lordship himself and it was one of the greatest moments in my life.  I will never forget meeting him and how gracious he was.  He was very affable and he was so passionate about FSU and about football.  I thought that I had died, gone to Heaven and met G-d himself.

I then got to cover his team on a regular basis for the independent school newspaper, and then for news papers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Fort Lauderdale News, I would get to see my idol almost every day during the season. Wow, Bobby Bowden knew my name and always made it a point to address me with it.  I did not think that life could get any better.

Whenever I needed to speak to the coach, I would call his office and his longtime secretary, the very nice and charming Sue Hall would answer the phone and tell me that coach always had a few minutes to meet with me. I would then go to the Moore Athletic Center and sit in his office and pinch myself as if I was meeting with G-d himself. He would always ask me how my father was, despite never meeting the man. We exchanged pleasantries and he would then not only answer my questions, but explain every football term that he would use as if I was hearing it for the first time. He taught me the game and he shared his knowledge with me. For that I will always be grateful.

After spending a year and a half in Tallahassee, which was two football seasons, at Florida State, I made the decision to transfer to Miami, a choice that I will never regret.  I packaged my below-sea level grade point average and my momentos and loaded up my 1986 Nissan 200 SX and headed south to Coral Gables where I would thrive as a student and as a journalist.

As much as I loved FSU football and Coach Bowden, Miami was still my home and the Hurricanes would soon be my passion. I attended my first class at UM shortly after Vinny Testaverde threw his last interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss against Penn State.

I will never forget my first game back at Doak Campbell Stadium in 1987.  It was being played on Yom Kippur, the holiest of all Jewish holidays and I was debating whether or not to even travel to the game. Sandy Koufax would not pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur and I was wondering whether or not I should fly to cover a football game.

Well, religion lost out that day and I was in the press box working and silently cheering for the Hurricanes. I was commiserating with former Miami broadcaster, the late-great Sonny Hirsch who was also Jewish and made the trip. When Miami was losing 19-0 at halftime, we looked at each other and decided that it had to be sundown somewhere and that it would be okay to partake in the BBQ buffet that my old friend Wayne Hogan, the Sports Information Director at Florida State, at the time, left out for the scribes.  We were supposed to fast for the entire day, but when your team is getting pummeled, you need comfort food like ribs and chicken to get your mind off of the drubbing.

I decided that I needed to watch part of the second half from the sidelines so I stood behind the Miami bench in the fourth quarter, once they let the media onto the field.  It was then that I got down to the field and saw Michael Irvin torch Deion Sanders for what proved to be the game-winning 73-yard touchdown reception from Steve Walsh that clinched the game for Miami, despite the fact that Bubba McDowell had to break up a two-point conversion intended for Pat Carter to officially seal the game for Miami.  That conversion was Coach Bowden going for the win. He could have kicked the extra point and tied the game, but like Coach Bowden always said, he plays to win.

I heard Irvin approach the line of scrimmage and tell Prime Time to wait right there and that he would be right back. He would be right back, but with the football in his arms and seven points to account for it, and a UM win that would propel them to an undefeated regular season and the national title.

But for that Yom Kippur victory, we would not have won the title that season. To me, it was the biggest Yom Kippur win since the great war in 1967.

When the Seminoles unceremoniously got rid of my idol, Coach Bowden, and replaced him with Jimbo Fisher, I lost a lot of respect for the program. Until then, I always wished that FSU would win every game every season, with the lone exception being the game against my beloved Hurricanes. They turned their back on Lord Bobby when the chips were down and discarded him like Sarah Jessica-Parker discards a used pair of shoes.

I will be in the press box again Saturday night, silently rooting for the Hurricanes.  (OK, maybe not so silently as I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve) However, a small piece of me will also be thinking about Coach Bowden and how much he has meant to me in my life and how much I miss having him wander the FSU sidelines and coaching in this series.