JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- On a day marking oh, so much finality for legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, it seemed only fitting he began the afternoon by receiving a gift from the Gator Bowl committee -- a show of appreciation, if you will, for all that he's given to the game of college football -- in the form of a brand-new 2010 Toyota Camry.
Then, he drove off into the sunset a winner.
"It is amazing, but coming out with a win is kind of a bonus," said the 80-year-old, second all-time winningest coach in NCAA history -- who finishes his 44-yearcoaching career second only to Penn State's Joe Paterno -- of his career-ending, 33-21 victory against West Virginia on Friday. "Here I was looking at the end of my career. I'm either going to win 388 games or 389. Neither one of them throw me over the hump or nothing, unless something happened to Joe."
Bowden then paused, let go a little chuckle and added:" Anything happen to Joe (on Friday?)" as the room of reporters erupted in laughter. "(I) might sign up for another year if Joe leaves."
Sorry, coach: Paterno won his Citrus Bowl matchup, 19-17, against LSU about a half hour before Bowden's on Friday just down the road from his good buddy in Orlando, giving JoePa 394 career wins -- and counting.
Though as Bowden reminisced over the years and seasons come and gone Friday -- 34 of which were at Florida State -- he seemed at peace with leaving his tireless pursuit of the coveted all-time wins record right where he teaches all his players to leave their emotions: on the field.
"The (Gator Bowl win Friday) was really a bonus, knowing it is your last game," Bowden said. "To be honest, it is kind of interesting. I'm interested in this retirement business. You know what? I ain't got to set my alarm. I get up when I get darn good and ready, and then, like I say, go out and look for a job."
Of course, on Friday, Bowden had one task left at his current job. And early, it looked as if the Seminoles weren't exactly up to helping him complete it.
The Mountaineers drove down the field with ease after the opening kickoff to take a 7-0 lead, going 72 yards in eight plays in just three minutes and 12 seconds as West Virginia speedster Noel Devine busted through one of his many open lanes he found throughout the game as QB Jarrett Brown capped it with a 32-yard score.
And although Bowden had just moments earlier told the beyond-capacity crowd of 84,129 in attendance (a new Gator Bowl record) that he was "nostalgic" upon hearing the West Virginia fight song after being brought onto the field and honored before the game with a montage on the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium jumbo tron that featured photos of Bowden as a toddler, to a college football player to eventually a coach, the living legend threw on the headset and got in someone's ear after West Virginia's opening score.
"I was very concerned all week about (me) getting too much attention," Bowden said about whether he was worried about his player's losing their focus because of the monumental nature of Friday's game. "I like the attention, but I mean, everything is Bobby this, Bobby that, Bobby this, Bobby that. I have never been treated so royally. I think (my wife) Ann felt the same way, never felt so royally where we stayed and where we went and what we did."
Even after the Seminoles fell behind, 14-3, following a Devine TD late in the first -- and freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins missing a short field goal that would've cut the deficit to 14-6 -- FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, for one, knew the Seminoles weren't about to let their lovable leader down.
"As much as he said this week wasn't about him, we all knew it was," said Manuel, who shined in place of injured starter Christian Ponder, throwing for 189 yards and running for the Seminoles' final TD late in the fourth quarter that capped a comeback which saw FSU outscore West Virginia, 30-7, the rest of the way after falling behind, 14-3. "We knew they were going to score some points, but we also knew we would answer. No way were we losing this game."
After cutting the lead to 14-13 at halftime on another Hopkins FG and a rushing TD by Jermaine Thomas, who finished with 121 yards and two scores, FSU stormed out of halftime like a team bent on giving Bowden nothing to worry about when it came to victory No. 389. Valdosta's Greg Reid nearly took the opening kickoff back for a score, setting the Seminoles up deep in Mountaineers territory. FSU settled for a FG, but then got another Thomas TD before halftime.
And just like that, the Seminoles went from trailing, 14-3, to ahead, 23-14.
"That really frustrates me," West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart. "Not a good job (by) Bill Stewart. Heck of a job for Bobby Bowden."
Devine finished with 168 yards and one TD, though Brown didn't play in the second half after hurting his ankle just before halftime, thus limiting the West Virginia offense from that point.
Stewart said he didn't think his players got caught up in circus surrounding this week's game, and even added he wanted "whip Bobby" in his finale.
"I don't like to lose," Stewart said. "(Bobby Bowden) taught me that."
Although, when asked to explain what he felt Bowden meant to the game of football, Stewart wasted little time in giving his answer.
"How long do I have?" he quipped.
Bowden ends his career with a 389-19-4 record as Jimbo Fisher, the team's offensive coordinator, gets set to take over.
Manuel says that while Bowden is the reason he came to Florida State two years ago, Fisher is the reason he feels the program will not miss a beat.
"We know him, we know what he expects and we know we're in good hands with coach Fisher," Manuel said. "It's a sad day to see coach Bowden go --- we all love him --- but I think (with coach Fisher), the future is going to be bright at Florida State."
As time wound down in the game, Bowden --- who coached his last contest to constant chants of "Bob-by! "Bob-by!" by fans from start to finish and even threw the ceremonial Seminole spear in the ground at midfield before kickoff --- ran over to the stands and tossed his autographed Seminoles hat to a lucky fan. A few minutes later, after time ran out, he was carried off the field by his players.
"We came off the field, someone asked me, 'Can we carry you off?' And I said, 'Well, yes, if you all want to. I don't want anybody thinking it up. But if y'all want to do it, I will let you carry me off the field," Bowden said before ending his thought in a way only he could: a good-natured, parting shot.
"They must have sent the littlest guys they could," he added with a smile. "They couldn't even lift me up."
But at least they got to.
One final time.