Hail The King

The Doak Campbell Stadium crowd began to chant Bobby Bowden's name with just under four minutes remaining in Saturday's contest against Wake Forest. He was also joined on the sidelines near the end of the game by his wife of 54 years, Ann. After the final seconds ticked away and history was made, Bowden's achievement was saluted in a brief but emotional ceremony near the north end zone.

Before heading into the locker room, Bowden headed back to the south end zone and, keeping with his long-time custom, tossed his cap to the Marching Chiefs.

Well, let the band play.

Forty-four years after coaching his first college game, Bowden reached the summit -- he surpassed good friend Joe Paterno of Penn State and became major college football's winningest coach.

While the crowd's roar filled the sky, Bowden low-keyed his achievement.

"That was a nice win tonight," Bowden said following the game.

"I can't get as excited about the 339 as a lot of people are. Because I know there's more to it. It's not like, ‘Oh, boy. You're it.' I am just ahead right now. Both of us are still pecking away at it. I appreciate what happened. I expect it to continue -- no way I can celebrate."

The record victory -- 48-24 over Wake Forest -- clinched FSU at least a share of its 11th Atlantic Coast Conference title,. It also kept the Seminoles, who are at struggling Notre Dame next Saturday, within striking distance of the national title Sugar Bowl with a little bit of luck.

Saturday wasn't about luck.

The evening belonged to the legendary, if not reluctant Bowden.

Paterno and Penn State were defeated 26-14 at Iowa a few hours earlier, giving Bowden the opportunity to move into first by himself. Bowden surpassed his coaching idol, Paul "Bear'' Bryant, the late Alabama coach, last season in the Seminoles' season opener.

While FSU fans and the nation have kept track, Bowden has tried to sidestep his trek into history.

"When Joe broke Bear's record, Bear couldn't do a darn thing about it. He was underneath. He was underneath," Bowden said and chuckled.

"Now, we broke Joe's but Big Joe is still out there hunting and pecking. It's just something that happened. I admire him so much. To me, I feel privileged to be with him in this thing and however it plays out, it's okay.

"I am kind of uncomfortable about it because it ain't over. It's not like it's hey, ‘You got it now. You can go to your grave like that.' It's not true. I expect Joe to come back and he will. And I will do the best I can do. Whatever happens, there's no animosity whatsoever among either one of us."

The Seminoles, meanwhile, were all smiles following the game. They awarded Bowden the game ball on the field, and then saluted him with another ovation in the locker room.

" It was a great experience being in there," defensive lineman Brodrick Bunkley said.

"Looking at his face. Like I said, being here from one of the best coaches. I look at a sign like that -- "Great leadership brings victory" -- and that's one of the best leaders I've seen so far since I've been in football. We got in the locker room and he joked around a bit. He knows how everyone here feels about him. He knows everyone here loves him. It feels great. I just know it's a great feeling for us, knowing we are here to help him get that (accomplishment)."

Junior quarterback Chris Rix, coincidentally matched Bowden's victory total by passing for 339 yards and a pair of scores before leaving the game after the third quarter.

"I was so happy for coach because he's the last one in the world who notices that kind of thing (ceremony)," Rix said. "We just wanted him to know that, of course, we appreciated him and it was an exciting time for us as well."

Bowden picked up 31 wins at Samford (Ala.) College, where he began his coaching career in 1959, another 42 at West Virginia and is 266-65-4 since coming to FSU in 1976. Bowden, who spent six years as an assistant coach at FSU and West Virginia in the 1960s, is 339-97-4 in 38 seasons with two national titles.

"I definitely wanted to come to a program that knows how to win," tailback Lorenzo Booker said.

"Obviously, coach Bowden is the best coach in college football history. Not only do I get to play for the school that I've always wanted to play for, but I also get to play for the best coach in Division I-A history. I couldn't ask for anything more. This is just like a national championship to me, so I am going to celebrate on Coach Bowden. On coach Bowden's day."

Added fellow tailback Leon Washington:

"I really didn't think much about it before today because I know coach Bowden is a humble guy and he really wanted to win the game more than anything else. But, after the game, hearing the fans, hearing the players, showing him love and everything, just being part of that is something I can tell my kids and grandkids that I was in that game. I contributed in the game that coach Bobby Bowden reached that milestone."

FSU's veteran defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who played for Bryant at Alabama, certainly understood the importance of that milestone. He also was excited to share in Bowden's achievement.

Former Grambling (La.) coach Eddie Robinson has the all-time college record with 408 wins, one more than John Gagliardi of St. John's (Minn.), who won his 407th game Saturday.

"To be part, in a small way, of two coaching legends, two icons -- whatever you want to call it -- is just a super feeling and blessed to be jsut a part of it," Andrews said. "To see what coach Bryant did all those years and then what coach Bowden has done, it's absolutely remarkable."

Bowden, meanwhile, refused to get too excited about what had just transpired. Or his place in football history at the moment.

"I didn't expect any of that," Bowden said of the response and ceremony.

"Everybody else evidently didn't take it like I did. I took it like okay, you are ahead today. It's like a baseball game. You got nine innings and this is the fifth inning and we are one up. There's a lot more innings left."


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