NEW ORLEANS -- There they were, Saint Bobby and Steve Superior, posing together with the national championship trophy.
"Y'all want us kissing?" Florida State coach Bobby Bowden shouted as photographers snapped their picture. "I don't think he'll kiss me."
No, Florida coach Steve Spurrier just stood there, smiling, fidgeting, looking mildly uncomfortable.
"Good crowd here today," he muttered to himself, staring out at a hotel ballroom filled with reporters.
This was yesterday morning, at the final coaches' news conference before tonight's Sugar Bowl.
Bowden had just finished with the media, displaying his usual homespun charm, drawing his usual laughter.
Now it was Spurrier's turn.
To face a final grilling.
To talk about his meeting with Big 12 officials.
To explain, one more time, his late-hit charges.
"Somebody said, 'Would you do it again?' " Spurrier said. "I said, yeah, probably, if some players on the other team admitted after a game that they tried to knock our quarterback out of the game. I'd probably bring attention to it again."
A coach trying to protect his player, in this case a Heisman Trophy quarterback -- what could be more innocent?
Maybe nothing, but Spurrier's problem is that he blurts whatever is on his mind, without regard to the consequences.
Gifted as he is, it probably would be difficult to find a college football coach who is less popular with his peers.
tTC Spurrier refuses to follow the code.
If No. 3 Florida wins tonight, it will be real interesting to see how the coaches' poll turns out, for No. 4 Ohio State also would stake a claim to the national championship.
The coaches dropped the Gators from No. 1 to No. 3 after their 62-24 loss to Nebraska in last year's Fiesta Bowl -- below Tennessee, a team they had beaten by 25 points.
The writers ranked Florida No. 2.
Would the coaches zap Spurrier again?
It's difficult to imagine -- Florida has a comfortable lead over Ohio State in the polls -- but you never know.
Spurrier's independent streak is admirable, but he's just too smug.
Bowden, by contrast, is one of the boys -- with his peers, and with the media. In times of trouble -- remember the Foot Locker scandal? -- it serves him well.
"Steve and I are a little bit different," Bowden said.
"He's taller than I am."
"He has the ultimate confidence. I work out of fear a little bit more. I'm a fraidy-cat. He's wondering how much he's going to beat us. I'm sitting there afraid we're going to lose."
Bowden's aw-shucks style is as successful as it is irresistible -- witness his 11 straight bowl victories.
Spurrier is only 2-4 in bowl games. And when he loses, well, it's the players' fault.
"We had a good game plan against Nebraska, but we didn't execute it," he said recently about last year's Fiesta Bowl defeat.
Spurrier has since softened that position -- yesterday, he said the game was an embarrassment "for all of us" -- but he rarely backtracks completely.
And on the late-hits question, he's simply out of line.
Would Spurrier be as strident if his own team rushed the passer as effectively as Florida State?
His accusations after Florida's 24-21 defeat on Nov. 30 were dubious -- the Seminoles had three obvious late hits, and two were penalized.
As for the trash talk that followed, Bowden said, "You know how my kids are. After a game, they might say anything."
Spurrier probably didn't intend to trigger a controversy -- when he first raised the issue, a Sugar Bowl rematch appeared unlikely.
But once the game was set, he was in a bind.
Even if he only wanted to send a message to the officials, his charges implied that Bowden was a dirty coach and incited Florida State's players.
Maybe it will get him a call tonight.
Or maybe the whole thing will backfire, with the officials leaning the other way to show they're not intimidated.
Bowden said he was "taken aback" by Spurrier's comments, but that as close as he came yesterday to admitting that he was upset.
"I saw Steve last night," Bowden said. "We chatted."
"In a dark corner."
Everyone laughed, then Bowden went on to call it a "nice little talk," adding, "I like him. I'll be honest with you."
No one believed Bowden, but back to his summit with Spurrier.
Were late hits a topic?
"He talked a little about late hits, he sure did," Bowden said. "I didn't listen all that much. It's typical Steve. He just told me, 'Look, this is the way I feel.' "
Did he apologize for attacking Bowden's integrity?
"He wasn't that happy," Bowden said. "I didn't say he retracted anything. You ever heard of him retracting?"
Of course not, and frankly, it's a shame. Spurrier runs a clean program. His players graduate. And his mind is one of the most brilliant in football -- college or pro.
Bowden said he respects Spurrier, even fears him. Spurrier said he enjoys a "a pretty good relationship" with Bowden, "with all the coaches, really."
He's kidding himself.
Everyone loves Saint Bobby.
Outside of Gainesville, Fla., is anyone rooting for Steve Superior?
Pub Date: 1/02/97