TEMPE, Ariz. -- They are gathered here, more than 30 family members, hunkered down in a string of rooms and suites at a nearby resort in Scottsdale. When it comes to visiting with the grandparents, the Bowdens do it in style.
And most of them wouldn't be here, literally speaking, if it were not for Ann and Bobby Bowden.
It has been a tumultuous season for college football's first family, one in which tears were shed for the joy of Tommy Bowden's unbeaten season at Tulane and subsequent move back into the big time, as well as the despair of Terry Bowden's fallen star and fractured career at Auburn.
And, of course, for the utter surprise of Bobby Bowden's second chance at a national title.
"It's been a very bittersweet year," said Ann Bowden, "but one that could have a happy ending."
Ann Bowden recalled how most of the family spent Thanksgiving at Terry's farm a few weeks after he was forced to resign during his sixth year at Auburn. The midseason resignation had set off a firestorm of controversy after athletic director David Housel insisted that Bowden had not been pushed out, but had quit on his team in midseason.
"We watched on television when Tommy Tuberville was named the head coach at Auburn, and that was tough," said Ann Bowden, the mother of six and grandmother of 21. "As a mother, any time one of your children is going through a difficult time, it's difficult for you, too. But that's the nature of the coaching profession."
At the same time Terry Bowden was going through his first losing season at Auburn -- the Tigers were 1-5 this year after going 46-12-1 his previous five years, Tommy Bowden was putting together the season's Cinderella story at Tulane.
A perennial doormat, the Green Wave was the only team aside from Tennessee to finish the regular season 11-0. (Tommy Bowden left for Clemson shortly after Tulane was invited to the Liberty Bowl, where the Green Wave finished 12-0 with a win over Brigham Young.)
"I tell you what, the more I look at things, and check out the comparable scores, I think Tulane should be playing Tennessee and not Florida State," Tommy Bowden joked last month.
Of course, if that had happened, Tommy Bowden, 44, wouldn't have been coaching. He had already replaced Tommy West at Clemson and taken Jack Hines, his brother-in-law and secondary coach, with him. They won't be here for the Fiesta Bowl, where all but three of the grandkids have gathered.
They will be getting ready for next season, which will include the first sideline matchup between Bobby Bowden and one of his sons. Coincindentally, Florida State and Auburn are scheduled to play next season as well, a game that might give new meaning to the word "payback."
Tommy Bowden had empathy for what his brother went through, having been a member of Pat Dye's staff when Dye was fired six years ago.
"You understand the mind-set of this profession," said Tommy Bowden, who remained on his brother's staff at Auburn until taking the Tulane job two years ago. "If you stay in it long enough, you will be humbled. This was the first time Terry had ever been humbled."
Bobby Bowden has never been fired from any of the three head coaching jobs he has held in 33 seasons. Then again, when you put together a 292-84 record that includes going 16-4-1 in bowl games, it's hard to give anyone reason.
The closest Bowden came to losing his job was in 1974, when West Virginia finished 4-7. He was 42 at the time, the same age as Terry Bowden is now.
"When my situation happened he told me that the same thing almost happened to him and he saved his job by the skin of his teeth," Terry Bowden said yesterday. "Two years later, he was at Florida State and now he's playing for a chance at his second national championship."
Terry Bowden was with his father in Miami five years ago when the Seminoles beat Nebraska to win the first championship. That was the same year Terry Bowden had taken Auburn to an 11-0 record while the Tigers were still on NCAA probation.
"I can't say that going to practice this year has been as much fun as it was in '93, because then it was nice to be seen," Terry Bowden said. "But I'm still enjoying this because you never know how many more years he'll be at it."
Don't expect Bobby Bowden to do the same thing Nebraska's Tom Osborne did after his Cornhuskers shared last year's national championship -- retire. Bowden figures that he's three years and 14 victories behind Penn State's Joe Paterno, who doesn't seem to be slowing up either.
"I'm amazed at how well I feel," said Bowden, 69. "I have never felt it's a struggle. As long as I feel good and we keep winning, I'll keep coaching."
Bowden credits the stability of his staff, which includes son Jeff, for taking much of the pressure off him. Two of his assistants have been with him more than 20 years. Three others have been there 15 or more. Two more have each been there 13.
"He's got that thing on cruise control," said Tommy Bowden.
There was some grumbling earlier in the season when the Seminoles lost at North Carolina State. There was talk that Bowden's once-imaginative offense had grown stale, that perhaps he was delegating too much to his assistants, that he wasn't demanding enough of his players.
"People will always find reasons when you lose," said Bowden.
At the time, Bowden talked about how losing in September was better than in November, that if some of the other unbeaten teams lost down the road, the Seminoles might still have a chance to "sneak in there." Of course, Florida State had fallen to ninth in the country, the team's lowest ranking in several years.
Florida State won the remainder of its games, including a 23-12 victory over Florida in Tallahassee on Nov. 21, climbed to fourth in the polls, then watched at home as both second-ranked UCLA and third-ranked Kansas State lost their respective games on Dec. 5.
Bowden waited until the next day for the Bowl Championship Series to announce its Fiesta Bowl pairings. He said it was one of the biggest surprises in his life to be invited to the championship game.
"It was probably more fulfilling to do it this way than when we've been 11-0," said Bowden.
As fulfilling as it was as a coach, it was more so as a father to watch Tommy Bowden go unbeaten. Bobby Bowden even got to one of Tulane's games. He is looking forward to seeing his son coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, though it means he'll be another of the league's coaches trying to knock off the Seminoles.
It also will mean they will see each other more often.
"It used to be, he'd go to his media days and coaching meetings and I'd go to mine," said Bobby Bowden. "Now we'll be going to the same place."
The same can't be said for Terry Bowden. While his father wouldn't mind him coaching in the ACC someday -- are you listening Debbie Yow? -- Bobby Bowden expects his law school-educated son will take next season away from the sideline. Terry Bowden made the trip to Tempe with the wife and kids to see the grandparents, too.
Ann Bowden recalls a note she received from her son after the family's trip to Auburn in November.
"He thanked us for being so supportive of him and helping him get through a very trying time," she said. "It's going to be nice for his family to be with us out in Arizona. Hopefully he'll get to share in this national championship."
No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) vs. No. 2 Florida State (11-1)
Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
When: Monday, 8 p.m.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Line: Florida State by 5 1/2
No. 1 vs. No. 2
Meetings between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the Associated Press' college football poll. The No. 1 team is 18-11-2 overall but has lost 10 of the past 16 meetings.
Date ....... Result
10/9/43 .... No. 1 Notre Dame 35, No. 2 Michigan 12
11/20/43 ... No. 1 Notre Dame 14, No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight 13
12/2/44 .... No. 1 Army 23, No. 2 Navy 7
11/10/45 ... No. 1 Army 48, No. 2 Notre Dame 0
12/1/45 .... No. 1 Army 32, No. 2 Navy 13
11/9/46 .... No. 1 Army 0, No. 2 Notre Dame 0 (tie)
1/1/63 ..... No. 1 USC 42, No. 2 Wisconsin 37, Rose Bowl
10/12/63 ... No. 2 Texas 28, No. 1 Oklahoma 7
1/1/64 ..... No. 1 Texas 28, No. 2 Navy 6, Cotton Bowl
11/19/66 ... No. 1 Notre Dame 10, No. 2 Michigan State 10 (tie)
9/28/68 .... No. 1 Purdue 37, No. 2 Notre Dame 22
1/1/69 ..... No. 1 Ohio State 27, No. 2 USC 16, Rose Bowl
12/6/69 .... No. 1 Texas 15, No. 2 Arkansas 14
11/25/71 ... No. 1 Nebraska 35, No. 2 Oklahoma 31
1/1/72 ..... No. 1 Nebraska 38, No. 2 Alabama 6, Orange Bowl
1/1/79 ..... No. 2 Alabama 14, No. 1 Penn State 7, Sugar Bowl
9/26/81 .... No. 1 USC 28, No. 2 Oklahoma 24
1/1/83 ..... No. 2 Penn State 27, No. 1 Georgia 23, Sugar Bowl
10/19/85 ... No. 1 Iowa 12, No. 2 Michigan 10
9/27/86 .... No. 2 Miami 28, No. 1 Oklahoma 16
1/2/87 ..... No. 2 Penn State 14, No. 1 Miami 10, Fiesta Bowl
11/21/87 ... No. 2 Oklahoma 17, No. 1 Nebraska 7
1/1/88 ..... No. 2 Miami 20, No. 1 Oklahoma 14, Orange Bowl
11/26/88 ... No. 1 Notre Dame 27, No. 2 USC 10
9/16/89 .... No. 1 Notre Dame 24, No. 2 Michigan 19
11/16/91 ... No. 2 Miami 17, No. 1 Florida State 16
1/1/93 ..... No. 2 Alabama 34, No. 1 Miami 13, Sugar Bowl
11/13/93 ... No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
1/1/94 ..... No. 1 Florida State 18, No. 2 Nebraska 16, Orange Bowl
1/2/96 ..... No. 1 Nebraska 62, No. 2 Florida 24, Fiesta Bowl
11/30/96 ... No. 2 Florida State 24, No. 1 Florida 21
Pub Date: 1/02/99
DATELINE: TEMPE, Ariz.