Bowden: I had to fight back tears for finale

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- While the world welcomed a new decade Friday, a group of 84,129 Gator Bowl fans said goodbye to a football legend with the time-honored Seminole war chant streaming through Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

As Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden took the field for the last time New Year's Day, voices from the stands -- from both West Virginia and FSU fans -- never quieted once during the entire three-plus hours he walked the sidelines.

"I was determined not to cry, but I will tell you what, the closest I came was when I walked through those old players and heard the fans screaming my name," Bowden said after FSU's 33-21 win against the Mountaineers.

The monumental occasion of Bowden, with wife Ann on his arm, stepping onto the field for the final time will forever be engraved in the minds of those in attendance, especially for one lucky member of the Seminoles' marching band, who was the recipient of Bowden's autographed hat he tossed into the stands during the final minutes.

"I used to always throw my hat to the band," said Bowden, who added the tradition ceased when the band was moved to a different, unreachable part of Doak Campbell Stadium. "(So) to keep with tradition, I threw my hat. I thought, 'Dadgummit, that's my last game, they can't give me more than (a 15-yard penalty). So I'm going to throw that hat up there for the last time to the band because they mean so much to me.'"

Bowden said he was also happy the game didn't end with him being doused with ice water -- a practice these days that's replaced carrying the coach off the field like players did in Bowden's heyday.

"I finally had to ask my players to stop throwing water on me. I said, 'I'm 70 years old, I'll die of pneumonia,'" Bowden joked.

In order to get acclimated to his new life, Bowden said he and Ann will head toward the sunny shores of Panama City Beach, Fla., where he'll get up when he's good and ready.

"(Now), I have to learn how to retire," he said.