Miami losses no joking matter to Bowden

You'd think it would bother him just a little more. Or maybe it does, and he's not telling.

For years, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden could count on at least two things every football season: another Atlantic Coast Conference title, and another Miami heartache. His Seminoles, it seems, rarely survive the Hurricanes when the scent of national championship is in the air.

So why is this man smiling now that Miami is set to join Florida State in the ACC, starting with Friday's showdown of top-10 teams at the Orange Bowl?

Recent history suggests Bowden's fingers are about to be pried from the league he owns -- if not this year, then soon. But with the slightly twisted perspective of a 74-year-old man who's learned to laugh at his own mortality, Bowden sees it a little differently.

"Hey, I play 'em every year. Let's share the joy,'' Bowden said recently, chuckling toward his up-and-coming league brethren, who now annually can look forward -- or not -- to the Miami experience as much as he does.

Bowden's grin-and-share-it approach, in part, has to do with Florida State's national championship-or-bust mentality.

So here comes Miami, winner of the last five games against Florida State, and a long-time Bowden tormentor. Funny, but Bowden has trouble seeing it as the conference game-of-the-week.

"I think the Miami-Florida State series has had more impact on the national picture than any other series in the country since '83,'' Bowden said. "I don't remember Ohio State-Michigan having that much effect. I don't remember Notre Dame-Southern Cal having that much effect. Those are great rivalries down through the years that haven't had the national championship implications the Miami-Florida State series has had.''

Since '83, when Miami won the first of its five national titles, the Hurricanes delivered Florida State's first loss of the season eight times, with four of those representing the only regular-season loss for the Seminoles.

Seven of the eight took place in October, which is traditionally when the rivals played.

"Until you got to that point, you weren't sure what you had,'' Bowden said. "Quite a few times we went into that game undefeated, got beat and then had to go from there.''

The exception to the early-October rule came in 1988, the last time FSU and Miami opened a season against each other. FSU went into that game with its first preseason No. 1 national ranking and came home with a 31-0 beating.

The Seminoles didn't lose another game that season.

Bowden, driven more by the loathe of losing than the love of winning, nevertheless doesn't mind welcoming his nemesis to his league.

Except for the part about garnet and gold sovereignty within the ACC, Miami's addition has changed very little in Bowden's view. For one thing, he's already got more league championship rings than fingers (11 of them in 12 seasons as a member).

As in 2000, when FSU lost to Miami, but played Oklahoma for the BCS championship, Bowden figures the Seminoles can withstand the Hurricanes. Especially with the game being played on opening weekend, as it is contracted for '05 and likely will be thereafter.

Why wait until October?

"Let's see who's got the ballclub, then reevaluate it and go from there,'' Bowden said. "I much prefer it the way it is.''

Which, of course, doesn't mean he prefers status quo when it comes to botched field goals and familiar endings against the Hurricanes.

Bowden's 342-99-4 record makes him the Division I career victories leader. That 18 of those losses have come against Miami doesn't mean he's telling jokes about it behind closed doors, the way he so often presents his feelings about the rivalry in public.

"I've never seen him more attentive to what's going on than he has been this preseason,'' Florida State quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey said. "He's been in on every one of our offensive planning meetings and he's got his finger on everything we're doing.''

Outside the conference room, Bowden's mood over Miami wavers somewhere between resignation and resolution.

"Coaches are more likely to feel more riled up against who's beating you,'' he said. "When you're winning it don't rile us up, but when we get beat all the time by somebody then you start really wanting to get hold of them.''

With nine starters back on offense and a fifth-year senior quarterback, plus a defense being billed as one of the best FSU has fielded in years, now would appear to be as good a time as any for Bowden to settle some scores.

If Miami, once more, steps on Bowden's toes don't expect him to see it as an obstacle to winning the ACC. Besides, seven other ACC teams will play Miami this season.

"One of us is gonna have to walk away the loser of this game,'' Bowden said. "The advantage of this game, you got the rest of the year to pull out of it.''

Doug Carlson covers the ACC for the Tampa Tribune.