Since father Bobby and son Tommy first faced off in 1999, the yearly Florida State-Clemson matchup turned from a celebration of the family legacy into a game no Bowden looked forward to. These days with son Tommy retired, father Bobby is glad the focus is back on football when the teams play at Death Valley on Saturday night.
"It does take that part away," the Seminoles longtime coach said.
It's the first trip to Clemson since 1997 where Bobby hasn't had to out-scheme his second-oldest son. And it was not always the happiest of family reunions, Bobby acknowledged. No matter the stakes for Florida State, "still, your boy's on the other side coaching," Bobby Bowden said.
Few saw potential problems in 1999 when Bobby led No. 1 Florida State, the eventual national champions, to play his son's new Clemson program in Division I's first father-son battle. TV cameras tracked the Bowdens from the high school game of Tommy's son the night before to a prayer meeting on Saturday morning.
Tommy's mother, Ann, donned a half Florida State-half Clemson sweatshirt in the stands. By the time the Seminoles gave Bobby his 300th career victory, most all Bowdens, even Tommy, left with smiles on their faces.
The good feelings didn't last.
Florida State won the next three in blowout fashion, increasing the heat on Tommy's tenure. When Clemson turned things around in 2003 with a 26-10 win over the third-ranked Seminoles, it was the Florida State coach who dealt with critics, a few who concocted the crazy notion Bobby threw the game on purpose to save his son's job.
The back-and-forth got so bad, Ann didn't attend the last Bowden Bowl at Clemson in 2007.
"I just didn't have the heart to sit out there and see one of them lose," she said last fall.
Despite winning four of his last five against Florida State, Tommy couldn't keep his job, leaving at midseason in 2008 with the Tigers all but out of the Atlantic Coast Conference race. The school said the change was Tommy's suggestion. Tommy said he was forced out.
So with emotions raw last November, Clemson interim coach Dabo Swinney thought he might get a cold shoulder from his old boss's dad in Tallahassee, Fla. Instead, Bobby was supportive and gracious about the change.
"You know, I'm getting pretty good at that," joked Bobby, who's watched three sons leave high-profile coaching jobs.
Besides Tommy, Terry Bowden had a successful run at Auburn that ended in turmoil 11 years ago. Youngest son Jeff was Florida State's offensive coordinator until he resigned in 2006 after several years of declining production.
Tommy, 55, said he'd like to get back into the profession and will wait to see what develops in the next few weeks. He will stay in Florida and watch on TV, long after the sun sets on his 5-mile run on the beach and the daily walk he takes with wife, Linda.
"It's a fun way to spend a Saturday," Bowden said.
- South Carolina at Arkansas, noon (CBS-Ch. 12)
- Tennessee Tech at Georgia, 1 p.m. (pay-per-view)
- Wake Forest at Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m. (ABC-Ch. 6)
- Georgia Southern at Samford, 3:30 p.m. (No TV)
- Florida State at Clemson, 7:45 p.m. (ESPN)