Family Affair

Tommy and Bobby set for yet another Bowden Bowl

Aug. 31, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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Topics of conversation ranged from new beginnings to good old mom this week in Tallahassee and Clemson as the 2007 Bowden Bowl quickly approaches.


Monday night Florida State and Clemson will meet in Death Valley as father, Bobby, and son, Tommy, begin their runs toward an ACC title by facing off in what is shaping up to be one of the most important seasons in their respective careers.  


After Florida State went 7-6 last fall and Clemson finished the year losing four of their last five games, both father and son faced blistering criticism during the off-season that included calls for their firing.




"With family in the profession, you know that comes with the job description," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "Now some jobs more so than others and this is probably one of those jobs."


At Florida State, Bobby spent the off-season making some major changes by revamping his coaching staff in hopes of bringing the Seminoles out of the doldrums they have been stuck in the past few seasons. The decade-plus run of dominance in the ACC has ended and whispers about whether time has passed the 77-year-old by will not go away until he wins big again.


Meanwhile, Tommy remains firmly entrenched on that proverbial hot seat that only gets hotter each year he fails to win a conference championship. Speculation about his job status has been rampant for some time and may not subside until he brings home his first conference crown.


But like father, like son, both Bowdens have shrugged off suggestions they could lose their job. Since the elder Bowden is practically an institution, the idea of him leaving Florida State on anything but his own terms seems to be far-fetched. However, the notion that Tommy could lose his job after another sub-par season is certainly plausible. And he knows it better than anyone.


"Nobody's happy until you win all your games or until you win your conference championship," Tommy said. "But I think enough people have realized that we've increased the talent level and we've pretty much run a program here with integrity. We're close to winning and we don't have to reinvent the wheel. I think a lot of people recognize that."


Tommy took the Clemson job nine years ago, but he has failed to get the Tigers to a bowl game better than the Gator Bowl and for that reason he has been forced to answer questions about his job status more times than he cares to remember. To his credit, the more he has heard the rumblings and rumors, the more he has been able to block it all out.


"It really doesn't bother me that much because I can't name very many guys in this profession in history that haven't been on it," Tommy said. "You can probably start with coach [Joe] Paterno and my father who have been."


This very well could be a make-or-break year for Tommy and getting off to a 1-0 start is imperative, as it is for all the other 118 coaches around the country. Unfortunately for Tommy, his first game is a little harder than the openers he has been used to in the past.


The Tigers opened with Florida Atlantic last season and Tommy admitted he slept a whole lot better in the days leading up to the opener than he has this week. He knew his team could get away with more mistakes and poorer play against the Owls. That will not be the case Monday. Both the Tigers and Seminoles will have to be much sharper as they take on a division rival.


Both teams should feature very good defenses and the Tigers have the best running back duo in the nation, according to the elder Bowden, in C.J. Spiller and James Davis. The game between the two always seem to go down to the wire, so needless to say, Tommy does not expect his team to cruise to a 48 point win like it did in last year's opener.


"When you play a quality team there's little margin for error," Tommy said, "as opposed to when you play a lesser talented team where you can mess up and still win. That causes you a few more sleepless nights when you know your execution is going to have to be at a peak at your very first game, which is hard to do regardless of who you're playing."


Tommy actually has had the upper hand in the matchup the past several seasons. Clemson has won its past two meetings with Florida State, but the game has generally been played much later in the season. Florida State has recently played Miami in this game, but the schools pushed back their annual meeting and Clemson and Florida State pushed up theirs.


"I'd just as soon play him the first game," Bobby said. "You've got to play somebody the first game. I don't mind playing him the first game."


Both father and son know this will be a tough one to start the season with. Bobby is especially worried about his offense and expects to see his team struggle some. There is plenty of pressure on him after the Florida State administration spent a lot of money on the likes of new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and other high-profile hires.


Like father, like son, both Bowdens have a lot of preparation to finish, plenty of first game jitters to deal with and questions to answer about the other. The family angle always gets its fair share of pub when the two meet and this year is no exception.


The game has lost a little of its luster, and both teams have not been at their best the past few years, but when father and son face off, it is still a big game.


"The family aspect will always make it unique," Tommy said. "The players pretty much understand that there's some publicity about the family thing, but it's two teams and two players that are going to make the plays to win the game. I know they don't get involved with this family aspect at all."


Bobby will certainly enjoy seeing his son before the game, the only thing that will bring a wider smile to his face than winning. The two don't get the chance to talk extensively very often, especially during the football season, and with their busy schedules they barely get to see each other at all.


"I still enjoy walking out and seeing Tommy," Bobby said. "That's the social part of it. Once that game starts, you never think about it."


Once that first whistle sounds, Bobby will pay no attention to his son. His thoughts will be strictly on his team and preventing those trick plays Clemson runs that can cripple the Seminoles.


And in the end, one of them will emerge victorious and the other will have to deal with the ire of a rabid fan base after another loss. But the father can handle it. So can the son. They just worry how someone more important will handle it.


"The fact that you've got to beat him, he's got to beat you, that don't do the momma any good," the elder Bowden said.