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Amato: Bowden deserved another season

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After the final seconds ticked off the clock Friday, signifying the end of Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden's illustrious career, the cast which assembled around him on the field was a who's-who of former players and coaches watching history in the making.

Former Seminoles QB and Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke stood in the background, peering over the chaos at midfield to try to get a glimpse of Bowden hoisting the Gator Bowl trophy after beating West Virginia, 33-21, in the legendary coach's finale.

Longtime NFL star and one of Bowden's prized players through the years, Derrick Brooks, tried to fend off interviews long enough take in Bowden's final moments.

Although, there was one Bowden pupil who stood back and took the madness in from afar -- visibly choked up the entire time.

"It's a sad day for Florida State because Bobby Bowden is Florida State," said longtime Bowden assistant and friend, Chuck Amato, who worked for Bowden from 1981-1999, then rejoined the staff in 2007, but is leaving after this season. "It's just sad."

Speaking to a small group of reporters away from the mass of folks crowding Bowden, Amato fought back tears as he went on and on in his trademark raspy voice about just how bittersweet Friday was for him -- and should be to anyone who bleeds the garnet and gold.

"There were a lot of people who really thought he should've been given just one more year," Amato said. "And I'm one of them. I mean, don't you think he's earned it? Doesn't he deserve it? You're darn right he does. Thirty five years ... and what's he done ...."

Amato trailed off, before collecting his thoughts and adding: "Sooner or later, someone's going to do a whole story about what (the landscape of) Florida State looked like when he came here, and what it looks like now. Bobby Bowden made it one of the best schools in (the nation)."

Amato went on to say he felt school officials were too quick to want to move on from Bowden, especially considering the plight of Penn State's Joe Paterno, who was in a similar scenario a few years back in that the Nittany Lions' once-prominent program was going through a downswing, only to stick by the much-maligned -- and aging -- Paterno, only to once again be a part of the national title picture each year.

"Look at Paterno, who had four or five tough years, and look at (Penn State) now!" Amato said in an animated tone. "But all programs go through that. All of them. It happens to everybody. Southern Cal. Notre Dame. Oklahoma. Miami. But instead, Florida State ...."

Amato suddenly became emotional and ended the interview abruptly, saying, "I better stop. Thanks guys," then walked away.

Of course, Amato wasn't the only one fighting to keep his eyes dry Friday as Brooks said the week had been hard for he and the rest of the reported 350 former players and coaches of Bowden who came out to support the living legend one final time.

"It really was an emotional week for all of us, closing this chapter of coach Bowden's career. It was just such a great experience playing for a man like that," said the former FSU All-American linebacker, who was part of Bowden's 1993 national championship team and played his entire NFL career for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1995-2008. "We all came out (Friday) hoping the guys played well and would send coach out on a good note. And that's what they did."

Weinke, the quarterback who led Bowden's other national title team in 1999 and played for the Carolina Panthers from 2001-06 and then one year with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007 before retiring, said he jumped at the chance to come out and support his former coach.

Just like everyone else.

"When it comes to coach Bowden, I wouldn't expect anything less than the turnout of guys (Friday) who came to support him," Weinke said. "And while it was great to see all these guys come back, the one thing that left us all smiling was seeing (Bowden) go out on top. That means more to us than anything."

Weinke was one of the few players Bowden took time out to embrace as the clock ticked down at the Gator Bowl.

Weinke described the moment as being both memorable and "tough."

"I woke up (Friday morning) not really knowing how I was going to feel watching all this," Weinke said. "And then when he came up and gave me a hug with less than a minute left ... he's just the best. Plain and simple. He's the best. He's become a good friend of mine and a mentor. And that realization when he walked over to me that this would be last time we would hug on the field -- it was tough, man. Really tough."

No one, however, seemed to take it harder than Amato, who didn't hesitate a bit when asked -- if Amato was running the administration at Florida State -- whether he would give Bowden one final year to coach.

"Absolutely," Amato said. "He's Bobby Bowden."