A Family Affair

by Thomas J. Hutchison | 11/3/00 6:00am

A game involving two top-10 teams. The winner will likely take home the conference title and stay alive for the national title. The loser will be all but eliminated from both. What more could FSU-Clemson need to make the game exciting?

Oh yeah, did I mention the head coaches are father and son? That's right, it's Bowden Bowl II. No matter how much FSU coach Bobby Bowden and his son, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden, try to downplay it, every game between the Tigers and the Seminoles from now on is going to be about them. This year's game is even more important as both teams have only one loss. Were it not for a last minute upset loss at the hands of Georgia Tech last week, Clemson would still be in the national title hunt. Florida State, third in the latest BCS poll despite a loss to Miami, can still win it all provided the cards fall their way. Whatever happens, the winner of this game will in all likelihood win the ACC, not to mention have bragging rights at the next Bowden family reunion.

This game, although somewhat diminished in importance by the Tigers' loss last week, has been one of the most highly anticipated of the season. Well, by everyone outside the Bowden family.

"Three hundred wins isn't there, Peter Warrick's suspension not there and the first meeting between father and son isn't there," Tommy Bowden said in reference to last year's 17-14 squeaker at Clemson. "Now it's about Clemson and Florida State, which it should be."

Sorry Tommy, but there are plenty of things surrounding the game this year as well, including the fact that both teams boast one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Clemson's Woody Dantzler is most often compared to Michael Vick, and were it not for a calf injury that has slowed him down, the junior would likely still be in contention for the Heisman and the Tigers might still be in the Orange Bowl hunt. Unfortunately Dantzler is also questionable for this weekend's game. FSU boasts 28-year-old Chris Weinke, who in addition to being one of the country's oldest players, is one of the best. After a brief stint in minor league baseball, Weinke returned to FSU to lead the 'Noles to a national championship last season in his second year. This year, despite a wounded ankle, he is one of the leading contenders for the Heisman and is keeping FSU in the hunt for a second straight title.

But the Bowden boys will be the focus of this game. They are a coaching dynasty. There have been 19 perfect regular seasons in college football in the '90s -- Bobby has had two, Tommy has had one. Another belonged to Terry Bowden, another one of Bobby's progeny who coached successfully at Auburn before heading to the commentator's booth for ABC. Patriarch Bobby is in his 22nd season at Florida State; he has won two national titles and has a list of accomplishments few coaches in college history can match. Indeed, Bowden is, along with Joe Paterno, the only active coach that can be called an icon. The 70-year-old Bowden is the fifth-winningest coach ever and is quickly moving in on number one along with Paterno. Tommy, after leading Tulane to an undefeated and untied season in '98, took over at Clemson last season and quickly took the Tigers to the Peach Bowl. Although that team finished 6-6, this year's Tigers have been ranked in the top five almost all season until last week's loss. There hasn't been this much excitement around the Clemson program since they won the national title in 1981.

This game was almost an even bigger deal. FSU is currently ranked three in the BCS, and many believe if they win out they have a good shot at the Orange Bowl and another national title. Clemson was in the Orange Bowl picture until last week's loss, but still has a chance to interrupt Florida State's run of eight consecutive ACC titles. The elder Bowden seems to think the Georgia Tech loss might help the Tigers.

"The wounded animal, the play-it-loose-as-a-goose, the nothing-to-lose type of thing, I think that could be beneficial to them," Bobby Bowden said in the classic, down-home style that has helped make him a legend.

Neither Bowden has said much about the family's rematch, but you can be sure it's on their minds. Clemson played FSU last season in the first game in NCAA history between a father and son. The Tigers stayed closer to the 'Noles than most teams did in '99, barely losing 17-14 in the friendly confines of Death Valley. This year they travel to Tallahassee, a place they have not won in four straight contests. They have not scored a touchdown in Tallahassee since 1989. Expect that to change this year, particularly if Dantzler makes the start. Unfortunately for the Tigers, FSU has the more talented team.

There is one other interesting footnote to this game. Farther north, in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tar Heel head coach Carl Torbush is coming under fire after a string of losing seasons. One name that has circulated as a possible replacement: former Auburn head coach and current Bowden family member Terry Bowden. That's right. Three Bowdens. One conference. Unlikely? Perhaps. Impossible? Not at all.

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