Bobby Bowden ended his coaching career with 389 victories after Florida State beat West Virginia 33-21 in the Gator Bowl on Friday.
“Am I at peace? Oh, yeah, I really am,” Bowden said after the win. ” Yeah, mm-hmm. Yeah, I might — I’m not ate up with coaching football all my life. I have got 80 years in. I wanted 81, but I got 80 years in. I wanted one more and couldn’t have it. They wouldn’t let me have it.”
While at peace, the reason for wanting one more year was simple. He wanted to get win No. 400. Although his career record (Including 22 wins at South Georgia College) puts him above that mark, the NCAA doesn’t recognize it,. Also because they pulled 13 wins from his record at FSU for infractions, which also put him there, he wanted just one more year.
“I wanted 400 so bad. I wanted 400 so bad because I felt like, well, Joe is going to beat me — when they took away those games, Joe is going to beat me,” Bowden said. “But if I could just get to 400, it would be me and him. I could hang around with him and follow him around a little bit. I wanted 400 but didn’t get a shot at it.”
Being around the game as long has the 80 year old Bowden has been, there of course would be games that stand out.
Ironically it’s not the two national championships he won at FSU, instead the one that still bites him to this day is a game against Pitt 39 years ago. Both teams were 4-1 entering the game, but West Virginia was the favorite despite the game being played at Pitt Stadium.
“I know y’all ain’t interested in what happened in 1970. But I’m going to tell you anyway because you’re sitting there, right?,” Bowden said to a rousing roar of laughter. “So we’re playing Pitt up at Pitt and that’s the big rivalry is West Virginia and Pitt. It is like Florida, Florida State.
Pitt was under the guidance of a new head coach in Carl DePasqua, who a few years earlier coached nearby Waynesburg College to a 42-21 win over Wisconsin-Whitewater to cap off an undefeated 11-win season and claim the 1966 NAIA National Championship. So he too was aware of the rivalry.
“We got ahead of them 35-8, just killing them.” Bowden said.
It’s when Pitt changed up its game plan and went to a Power I by inserting Dave Garnett into the lineup as a second halfback and pulled all of its wide receivers.
“What their coach did now, because he told me about it later, he was so embarrassed he took all of his wide receivers out and played the second half with three big old tight ends,” Bowden said. “All he wanted to do was kind of keep the score from getting run up.
What he did, he came up about five times with fourth and one and went for it and made it. And we couldn’t stop him. We simply couldn’t stop them.”
Pitt opened up the second half with a 58 yard scoring drive capped off by Denny Ferris’ 1-yard touchdown. They hit the two point conversion and the comeback was on. On the Panthers next series, they controlled the ball once again and this time went 68 yards with Garnett scoring from seven yards out. Tight end Joel Klimak made his second two point conversion and it was a 35-24 game.
The Panthers, who would not punt in the second half, made it 35-30 on Tony Esposito’s 1-yard run in the fourth quarter, and then with 55 seconds remaining faced with a third and four from the West Virginia five yard line. Dave Havern would find Bill Pilconis for the score. The kick failed but the damage was done.
“Just like Ann (his wife) says, it is the only time she ever cried,” Bowden said. “We had them 35-8 at the half. We’re killing them. We’re killing them. Second half we couldn’t even make a first down.”
It also taught him something. Although he has always been a class act, his not wanting to run the score up, instead electing to sit on a lead cost him the game. It was something he would never do again in his coaching career.
“I learned something. You never had me sitting on the ball again, have you?,” Bowden said. “If I get accused of running up the score, you are darn right. I sat on it when we were ahead 35 to 8, and I said, We are going to win. When we lost, I said, I ain’t never going to sit on it again. Don’t have to worry about it no more though.”