Orange Bowl appeal goes beyond Bowden-Paterno

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was one of those classic grandfatherly moments.

Joe Paterno was talking about his 14 grandchildren, had mentioned baking Christmas cookies and coloring Easter eggs when a reporter wanted to know more.

"Do you hide the eggs?" he asked.

"Do I what?" Paterno asked, cupping his hand around his ear.

"Do you hide the eggs?" the reporter repeated.

"Do I buy the eggs?" the 79-year-old responded, again wrong.

"No -- do you hide the eggs," the reporter asked again, this time a tad slower.

"Yeah," Paterno said. "We do all that stuff. Thank God I have a den. Thank God I have a job to do."

That he does, as head coach of the No. 3 ranked college football team in the country. One year after Penn State officials reportedly asked Paterno and his staff to step down following back-to-back losing seasons, his Nittany Lions will be the only show in town when they take the field against Bobby Bowden and Florida State in the FedEx Orange Bowl Tuesday night (8 ET, ABC).

Both coaches have spent the week downplaying the first-ever matchup between two head coaches with more than 700 combined victories (or even 600 for that matter), but its historic importance can't be ignored.

It's a testament not to what they've achieved in their late 70s, but the fact that they've been able to remain in this cutthroat profession for nearly 90 years between them -- more than 60 of which at their current schools. Both coaches admitted Monday that if they were to have begun their careers now, in the ultra-competitive, criticism-laced, win-or-go-home college football world, they never would have lasted.

That's what makes Tuesday night's matchup all the more appealing. As the pressure to win intensifies, both legendary coaches find their programs at a crossroad. Paterno, in the face of mounting criticism a year ago that he should retire, put together one of his best teams at Penn State this season, coming within a last-second Michigan touchdown of going undefeated. A win Tuesday night against a talented Florida State team would validate the Nittany Lions' 10-1 season and rubber-stamp the Paterno comeback.

Bowden, on the other hand, is facing a storm of critics this year after his team dropped its last three regular-season games. A win over then 10-1 Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game punched four-loss Florida State's ticket here. A victory over the third-ranked Nittany Lions, Bowden believes, could catapult a Seminoles team that has played 25 freshmen back into college football's super elite.

"If we beat Virginia Tech and then Penn State, I might say, 'Hey -- we may be back in the hunt,'" Bowden said. "I ain't predicting that, though."

Questions surround both sides of the ball for both teams. How will Florida State respond to the loss of Butkus finalist and leading tackler A.J. Nicholson, who was sent home earlier this week following accusations of sexual assault in the team hotel?

"The feedback that I've gotten from most of the team is that he should have known better rather than why did they do this to him," Bowden said. "I think the team has moved on."

How will Penn State's players respond, having not played a game in over six weeks? Or to spending almost two weeks in Miami for preparations?

"I'll second guess myself on that," Paterno said. "Have we been here too long? I don't know."

Which Florida State offense will show up -- the one that managed just two touchdowns in three straight November losses or the one that scored 20 points against a Virginia Tech defense that entered the game tops in the country?

After slowing Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick in the same game, how will the Seminoles' defense fare against the similarly talented Big Ten MVP, Michael Robinson?

And lastly, which legendary head coach is going to walk off the field with the ultimate cap on an illustrious career, defeating a man he's spent decades admiring?

"I feel we're going to play as good as we can play," Paterno said. "Whether or not that's enough against a bunch that I feel is one of the top four or five teams in the country, that remains to be seen."

Said Bowden: "I'm just kind of happy to be here. You can imagine losing your last three games and being here. It's just a tremendous opportunity for our football team."

One thing is certain: Both coaches made it clear Monday that there won't be any emotional postgame good-byes. They're both in good health, they both still love coaching and they both have no interest in giving it up anytime soon. Bowden plans to return because he wants to get the Seminoles back on top of the college football mountain, just like Paterno did this year with his squad. As for Paterno, well, he already spends enough time baking cookies and coloring Easter eggs.

"If you think I want to give this up so I can stay home and watch over 14 grandkids, all of whom are under the age of 10, you're nuts," Paterno said. "I love them all, but you're nuts."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.