Bowden era ends on winning note

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- There was energy and passion and they won it for Bobby Bowden, which begs the question: where was some of that earlier in the season for the Florida State Seminoles?

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Florida State safety Jamie Robinson (left) breaks up a third-quarter pass intended for West Virginia wide receiver Carmen Connolly in Friday afternoon's game.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Florida State safety Jamie Robinson (left) breaks up a third-quarter pass intended for West Virginia wide receiver Carmen Connolly in Friday afternoon's game.

The only answer, said wide receiver Jarmon Fortson, is to not wait for a legend to retire before pouring heart, soul and body into winning a football game.

"We never had this much fun and focus all season," Fortson said after Florida State rallied from an 11-point deficit to defeat West Virginia 33-21 on Friday in front of a record 84,129 fans at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. "If we had played this way all season, we wouldn't have lost a game ... maybe we learned something."

Maybe. That's a change of attitude that is now Jimbo Fisher's job as the Seminoles coach, because the victory for Florida State (7-6) was the 389th and last for Bowden.

"Losing was not an option," said freshman punt returner Greg Reid, who set up a field goal with a long kickoff return. "You don't send the greatest coach of all time into retirement with a loss."

Bowden, who announced a month ago to the day that Florida State's bowl game would be his last after 34 years with the Seminoles, was grateful his players felt that way and for the week-long love fest.

He said the victory, capping a week of sentimentality and celebration, was a "bonus." "This is a good day," the 80-year-old coach said. "Here I was, at the end of my career, and I was either going to win 388 or 389 games. And neither one was going to put me over the hump unless something happened to Joe (Paterno, Penn State's coach who leads in career victories over Bowden)."

Bowden was cheered loudly by fans from pregame (he got to plant Florida State's flaming spear) to postgame, when he received the trophy for winning his fifth Gator Bowl and 22nd bowl game.

He was carried off the field by some of his players after that, and was glad they didn't give him a dousing from one of the team's water coolers.

"I (told his players), 'man, don't do that any more,' " he said of a request to his team about 10 years ago. "I will die of pneumonia of you hit me with that water. So they stopped doing that."

The players settled for autographed jerseys.

"It's something I can tell my grandkids when I'm done with football," said game MVP EJ Manuel. "It's awesome."

The storybook ending didn't begin well for the Seminoles as West Virginia (9-4) took a quick 14-3 lead on touchdown runs by Jarrett Brown and Noel Devine. Florida State defenders didn't appear capable of tackling either player and Devine (168 yards), had 100 yards in total offense in the first quarter.

But the defense, the Seminoles' weakness all year, would become a strength.

Mindful that their beloved coordinator, Mickey Andrews, was also retiring, Florida State players began flying to the ball and making big plays.

"We wanted to send Coach Andrews out a winner also," said linebacker Dekoda Watson, a former South Aiken standout.

Florida State got five sacks, two by Watson.

"You always remember that last game and so I'll always remember it as a win," Bowden said. "It's a good feeling. It is nice to end your career with a win and that's what the boys did for us."

Reach Garry Smits at garry.smits@morris.com.

EX-PLAYERS PAY TRIBUTE

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- There was no way Warrick Dunn would miss this.


Neither would Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, Leroy Butler or Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke.


This was their tribute to the man many of them saw as a father figure.


Hundreds of former Seminole stars, some now gray and others with midriff paunches that belied their glory days, gathered Friday to watch Bobby Bowden close out one of college football's greatest coaching careers with a 33-21 win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.


"You can't replace being here by watching it on TV or something," Dunn said. "That's something I'll cherish the rest of my life."


-- Associated Press


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