"You know, he passed guys like (Amos Alonzo) Stagg and (Pop) Warner, guys who had held it for 30, 40 years," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "You think it would be unsurpassable."
Bowden looks to become the second-winningest coach in Division I-A history as he leads the Seminoles in their season opener against Iowa State in the Eddie Robinson Classic at Kansas City, Mo., Saturday. The third-ranked Seminoles went 8-4 last season, ending the year with a 30-17 win over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Bowden matched Bryant for second place on the career list with that victory.
It's a milestone Bowden never imagined he could attain.
"I remember thinking, `No way anyone (else) will win that many games.' That's one that will stand forever," Bowden said.
Forever is expected to last 19 years, eight months and a few days.
Bowden has 323 wins, four behind I-A career leader Joe Paterno of Penn State. Paterno once held a 20-win lead on Bowden just 12 years ago. Bowden, 72, who begins his 37th season as a head coach, including the past 26 years at FSU, has been uncomfortable talking about passing Bryant, whom he considered a mentor.
"There's no feeling of accomplishment in regard to that," said Bowden, who first met Bryant at a coaches' clinic in 1955, when Bowden was 25.
For perspective, winning this many games requires an average of 10 wins for more than 30 seasons. Behind Paterno and Bowden, the nearest active coach is South Carolina's Lou Holtz, who has 233 wins. Bowden, however, is not worried passing Bryant, catching Jo Pa or peering over his shoulder at Lou.
""I like Joe and he likes me," Bowden said. "Neither one of us wants to make anything out of this thing. We'll just see what happens. I can't see Penn State or Florida State going out on a losing note. If it does, I've got to go."
The Seminoles are looking to rebound from last year's 8-4 season. And, despite being a 22-point underdog, Iowa State is not considered a pushover.
Terry Bowden, the former head coach at Auburn and current college analyst for ABC, watched the Seminoles' practice earlier this week with his father. Terry also said Papa Bowden is focused on his team and not the record books. FSU players are eager to prove that last season was a fluke, one that ended a remarkable 14-year run of 10-win seasons and top-five finishes in the AP media poll. The Seminoles closed with wins over Georgia Tech and the Hokies to give them some momentum heading into this year.
Still, questions remain, especially defensively.
"Now, very honestly, towards the end of (last) season, I said, 'Okay we are going find out what my dad is all about,' " Terry Bowden said.
"People around the country are saying, 'Okay, 'Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, you guys are over the hill. (You've) lost it. You are not winning anymore. There's no more dynasty.' Will he have another year like that? If he does, I would have to be objective as an analyst and say the thinking now is he's on his way out. I think after the season I began to think that this is a critical year for dad and his coaches. It's not a young staff. This is a staff that needs to prove it they all have energy just like him.'
Bowden's energy was evident during Friday's luncheon and the Seminoles' walk through at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. The fact the game is designated to honor former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson makes it all the better for Bowden. The game is organized by the Black Coaches Association and Robinson, of course, is the winningest college coach at any level with 408 victories. (Robinson also attended the luncheon as well as Iowa State coach Dan McCarney).
"I've said this all week, who ever wins the battle behind Joe and I are still 100 behind Eddie," Bowden said.
It's obvious Bowden is far more concerned about the Cyclones. He praised McCarney's enthusiasm and talked of how Iowa State reminded him of the Seminoles when they began their march from mediocrity to unprecedented success. The Cyclones have won 16 of their last 24 games, the school's best streak over that span since it was 16-8 from Sept. 24, 1977 to Sept. 22, 1979. The Cyclones are one of 27 Division I-A teams to record 16 wins over the past two seasons.
The Seminoles don't have many loose ends to tie up. There remains a question of who will start at fullback - either B.J. Dean or ture freshman Torrance Washington, who has been slowed by a hip pointer. Bowden also admitted third-string quarterback Fabian Walker hadn't done enough during the week to close the gap on second-teamer Adrian McPherson, who is listed as probable following his ankle injury. That being the case, it's unlikely FSU will be in position to redshirt McPherson.
Also, the recovering injured such as receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) and offensive lineman Brett Williams (shoulder) are expected to play.
"I've got the green light to go," Williams said Friday. "I am feeling pretty good. We have a lot of confidence that the other guys can do it, too."
Also, Milford Brown, as reported by The Territory, made the trip despite being ruled ineligible this season by the NCAA Wednesday. Offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins said he plans to play his reserves against the Cyclones. Sophomore Alex Barron stepped in nicely for a recovering Brett Williams this past week.
Todd Williams worked at Brown's split guard slot this preseason will start. Williams is backed by redshirt freshman Matt Meinrod. Sophomore Ray Willis is scheduled to start at tight tackle after being in a heated spring battle with Williams for the starting role. Willis is backed by redshirt freshmdn Ron Lunford (pictured) and Eric Broe.
"We are still disappointed (over Brown ruling) but we told the guys this is a chance for other guys to get their experience, though maybe a little earlier than we planned," Heggins said.
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, meanwhile, said he would make a decision on his starting safeties Saturday. He considers rovers Claudius Osei and Jerome Carter co-starters. Also, free safety Kyler Hall (broken hand) has been cleared to play. He is backed by B.J. Ward, who was slowed by a separated shoulder in preseason drills.
Game officials said more than 49,000 tickets have been distributed. Iowa State purchased between 30,000 and 35,000 tickets, while FSU purchased around 5,000.