Sport Imitates Life

January 17, 2010 5:44 AM

Goodspeed Coach Bowden: A Fond Farewell From a Devout Miami Hurricane

As a lifelong Miami Hurricane fan, I've spent a considerable amount of time lately trying to find the right way to say goodbye to ousted Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden.
I know Bowden's last game was two weeks ago and I know we're supposed to be timely with our articles here in the sports media, but I think we can say to hell with 'timely' when the subject is timeless.

I never hated Florida State like you might expect, and I certainly couldn't hate their legendary coach. After so many close calls and close games (and missed field goals) went Miami's way against the snake-bitten Seminoles over the last quarter century, how could I? The Canes got luckier than any team ever should against FSU time and time again, and even Bobby Bowden's baby blue eyes began showing the anguish as the agonizing losses took their toll over the years.
Florida State vs. Miami surpassed Michigan-Ohio State and paralleled Oklahoma-Nebraska as college football's most relevant rivalry from the mid-1980's to the early 1990's, and the heartache began early on for Bowden.
The Seminoles lost to Miami 23-17 in Bowden's second season at FSU (1977) and 10-9 in 1980 after a failed two-point conversion attempt late in the game. Florida State finished both seasons 10-2, while Miami won its first of five national championships in 1983 with a last-second field goal and a 17-16 win in Tallahassee along the way. Unfortunately for Bowden and the Noles, that would not be their last 17-16 loss to Miami on a late field goal, nor would 1980 be their last one-point loss to The U because of a two-point conversion.
In 1987, Miami erased a 19-3 second-half deficit in Tallahassee and took its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter when Michael Irvin turned a short Steve Walsh pass into an 82-yard touchdown. FSU quarterback Brad Johnson led the Seminoles right back down the field and into the end zone in the final minute of the game, but Miami stopped a two-point conversion to clinch a 26-25 win, and the Canes went on to win the national title while Florida State finished the year 11-1.
Bowden's boys opened the following season ranked No. 1 in the country, but they were smashed by Miami in the Orange Bowl 31-0 on opening night before finishing another season 11-1.
The Noles lost their first two games of the 1989 season before beating Miami at home 24-10 in October. The Canes, however, rallied to win the national title with a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, and Florida State settled for a 10-game winning streak to finish the season 10-2.
Remember when Miami hit a game-winning field goal to beat Florida State 17-16 en route to the 1983 national title? The Seminoles missed their chance for revenge in 1991. In an epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in Tallahassee, Miami rallied from a 16-7 fourth-quarter deficit -- much like their late comeback in 1987 -- to take a one-point lead in the closing minutes.
In another resemblance of the '87 game, Florida State drove right back down the field for a very makeable 34-yard field goal attempt to win the game in the final minute. A freshman walk-on named Gerry Thomas missed wide right on goal posts that were narrowed by the NCAA to their current width before the season started, and a new curse was born with Wide Right I.
Like 1983, Miami won 17-16 and eventually split the national championship with Washington while Florida State ended up 10-2. The following season, Seminole kicker Dan Mowery missed a game-tying 39-yard field goal at the open end of the Orange Bowl in the waning seconds of a 19-16 Miami win ... Wide Right II. The Hurricanes lost to Alabama in a national championship Sugar Bowl game while Florida State finished 11-1.
Bowden beat Miami 28-10 in 1993 and captured his first national championship later that year, edging Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl, of all places, after FSU finally made a fourth-quarter field goal and Nebraska missed 43-yarder as time expired.
Things returned to normal in 1994 when Florida State finished the season 11-1after a 34-20 loss at Miami. Bowden did win five straight against the probation-riddled Canes from 1995 to '99 and another national championship along the way, but the Hurricanes returned to prominence just before the turn of the century.
In 2000, Florida State kicker Matt Munyon added his name to the annals alongside Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowery by missing wide right from 48 yards out as time expired in Miami's 27-24 win. The Seminoles somehow made their third straight BCS title game anyway, losing to Oklahoma in Miami, of all places, while the Hurricanes clubbed Florida in the Sugar Bowl to finish 12-1.
After Miami beat FSU and everyone else en route to the 2001 national title, the Canes' prospects of a repeat looked bleak when they trailed Florida State 27-14 in the fourth quarter of their 2002 meeting. Bowden chose not to go for a two-point conversion and a 14-point lead after what turned out to be his team's final touchdown early in the fourth, and Miami rallied for 14 unanswered points and a 28-27 lead in the final minutes.
In true FSU fashion, Chris Rix led the Noles into field goal range on the game's final drive, but sophomore place kicker Xavier Beitia started a new Seminole tradition: Wide Left. Beitia's 43-yard game-winning attempt looked straight as an arrow off his toe, but the ball veered mysteriously left of the uprights at the last second as the ghostly winds of the Orange Bowl's open end doomed Florida State yet again.
Miami later lost to Ohio State in the national championship game on the worst pass interference call in college football history, and Florida State limped to a 9-5 finish and a lop-sided Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.
Many trace the beginning of Bowden's end to that 2002 season and the one-point loss to Miami at midseason. Bowden continued into unprecedented woe by losing to The U twice in the 2003 season, including a 16-14 New Year's Day setback in the Orange Bowl after Beitia missed a go-ahead field goal wide right midway through the fourth quarter. Beitia was the only FSU kicker to get a second chance against Miami, but his torture was not yet over.
Neither was his coach's.
Bowden's misery against Miami was compounded when a real-life hurricane brought tragedy to his family in 2004. The two teams were scheduled to open the season in the Orange Bowl Labor Day night, but Hurricane Francis not only postponed the game, it killed Bowden's son-in-law and grandson as it came ashore and washed their vehicle off the road in northern Florida.
The game itself was another inexplicable collapse in which the Noles snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Florida State led 10-3 in the fourth quarter and lined up for a short, Beitia field goal attempt that would've given FSU an insurmountable, two-possession lead. Instead, Beitia's nightmare career against the Canes came to a fitting end when sophomore Devin Hester flew in off the right edge and swatted the ball out of midair as soon as it left Beitia's forsaken foot.
Brock Berlin and a Hurricane offense that had done nothing all night long then marched in the other direction and tied the game at 10 when Sinorce Moss took a flanker screen 31 yards to the house in the final minute of regulation.
Florida State got the ball first in overtime and went backwards after Rix took a fatal sack on third down and fumbled the snap for a loss on fourth down. On Miami's first OT snap, Frank Gore dashed untouched through a previously impenetrable Seminole defense for a 25-yard walk-off TD and a 16-10 victory.
Beitia was also the only FSU kicker to get a third chance at Miami, and Rix became the first college quarterback in the history of the game to lose five times to the same opponent as a starter.
Florida State finally broke through in 2005 and beat Miami at home when the Canes screwed up a short, game-tying field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter. Bowden proceeded to take three out of four from the Hurricanes before the 2009 chapter restored order to the rivalry and madness to the Bowden legacy. The two teams again opened the college season on Labor Day night, and Miami escaped Tallahassee with a 38-34 win after Jarmon Fortson dropped the winning ball in end zone on final play of the game.
It turns out that would be Bowden's last go-around with his archest of down-state rivals. The coach won anywhere from 375 to 389 games depending on which NCAA investigator you ask, but the Hurricanes were the thorn in his side that never went away. Bowden's win percentage against the rest of college football: .776. Versus Miami: an even .400. Ted Williams would be proud, but Bowden's 14-21 record against the Canes won't even look right on his hall-of-fame bust. 15 of those 21 losses to Miami were by eight points or less. Eight of those 15 were by three points or less. Five of those eight were by a single point.
The only school Bowden faired worse against in a much smaller sample was Oklahoma, whom he failed to beat in four tries.
Florida State finished in the AP top 5 every year for a decade and a half under Bowden, but the Seminoles had five one-loss seasons in which that only loss was to Miami. That means Ole' Blue Eyes was a few missed kicks and a couple two-point conversions away from as many as seven national titles on his resume`.
Instead, it will say "He had to play Miami" on his tombstone, as he famously lamented after Wide Right I in 1991. That's why I never hated the good ole' boy who beat everyone else but lost to us, and luckily for the second-winningest coach in Division I history, there is much more to his legend than the dreaded Hurricanes.
His sons are all coaches (except for one). His former players love him (except for Laveraneus Coles). Even his enemies adored him (except for the Florida Gators). We at The U can't help but feel sympathy for the lovable leader of Tallahassee, and while I personally don't agree with the way Florida State handled his twilight, I do believe it was time for him to go.
The Seminoles had done as many bad things off the field as good things on it in recent years, and the Gators in Gainesville had replaced FSU as the top-dog in both northern Florida and the national spotlight. Bowden had become little more than an overseer as he coached into his seventies, watching Seminole practices from the video nests and walking the sideline in games without so much as a headset over his ears. It was clearly time for the football program he created to assume a new direction.
That being said, I will miss him, and I wish him well as he leaves football behind. The Miami-Fsu rivalry won't be the same without him, and I can only pray he doesn't see field goals slicing right of the uprights and two-point conversions falling short of the goal line when he sleeps at night.

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