Bowden on SDSU and a night to remember
Bobby Bowden vividly recalls Nov. 19, 1977 when his 13th-ranked Florida State team played at San Diego State and returned home with a 41-16 loss that lives on as a legendary night in SDSU lore.
Head coach Claude Gilbert's Aztecs earned a No. 16 national ranking and beat San Jose State the following week to complete a 10-1 season. The landmark victory was considered a sign of things to come as Gilbert elevated a program that was less than a decade removed from small-school status.
"We were having a heck of a year, but they wore us out," Bowden said. "They beat the heck out of us and looked as good as anybody. When we got home, I wrote their coach a note and congratulated him on a such a great job.
"I also remember they had a loud crowd that night. They had a big Samoan (representing the Aztec Warrior mascot) with a flaming spear on the field. He would go up in the stands to get the fans riled up."
Florida State followed up the loss with wins over Florida and then Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl to finish 10-2, but the 10-win season is about all the programs shared over the next 33 years.
Bowden, now retired, was in only his second season at the time as he turned an obscure program and lifted it to a status among the elite of the elite in college football with national championships in 1993 and 1999.
Gilbert, Don Coryell's hand-picked successor, was unceremoniously fired three years later, and the Aztecs drifted between mediocrity, embarrassment and obscurity under six subsequent coaches.
The 1977 Florida State-San Diego State game is appropriate to recall with Bowden's help as SDSU (7-2, 4-1 Mountain West Conference) prepares for Saturday's game at No. 3-ranked Texas Christian (10-0, 6-0 MWC).
SDSU coach Brady Hoke is in his second year, and he has clinched the Aztecs' first winning season since 1998 as well as positioned them among others in the AP Top 25 voting with points equal to No. 27.
Such success at SDSU, in Bowden's opinion, is long overdue.
"What I know about San Diego State is the location and the talent in that area and throughout the state," he said. "If the university wants to build a championship program there, they can build a championship program just like the ones at USC, UCLA and Cal -- those other big-city schools out there."
When Bowden asked what happened to Gilbert, it was explained to him that he was transitioning SDSU's program from a junior college-based roster under Coryell from 1961-72 to recruiting high school players as the Aztecs prepared to join Western Athletic Conference (basically today's Mountain West membership) in 1978.
But when SDSU's records fell off to 4-7 in 1978, 8-3 in 1979 and 4-8 in 1980, Gilbert was fired. That prompted angry and tearful comments from Coryell, who by then was across town as the San Diego Chargers' head coach.
Gilbert had won similar to Coryell with a 61-26-2 (.697) record from 1973-80, but he was graded moreso on failing to get the Aztecs in the Holiday Bowl that had been created in 1978 as a home to the WAC champion.
"When a guy like Coryell comes around, he spoils people," Bowden summarized.
In addition to writing Gilbert a note, something else Bowden did upon returning to Tallahasse was borrow from SDSU tradition and an electric atmosphere he witnessed that night with 50,543 fans filling what was then named San Diego Stadium.
The next year Florida State created a pregame tradition with Chief Osceola, a Seminole Indian, riding Renegade, an an appaloosa horse, and planting a spear in the turf to the roaring approval of Doak Campbell Stadium's fans.
"We got that idea from San Diego State," Bowden said. "I remember we came out of our dressing room and saw (the Aztec Warrior mascot) in a sarong with a flaming spear. It was very inspirational."
"My wife (Ann) was with us on the trip, and we decided we needed to do something like that. That's where we got the idea to get the crowd riled up. Oh, gosh, that's one of the best pre-games in college football."
Bowden, in retirement, has written a book, "Called To Coach." He's also one of five coaches in a motivational DVD series -- "Get Coached." The DVD was released Tuesday and includes Mike Ditka, Mike Singletary, Sean Payton and Rex Ryan.
And, of course, there is his Discover Card commercial as he sits aboard his boat and says in frustration "Dadgummit!" to "Peggy" on the phone.
He says he wishes Coryell, who passed away at age 85 in July, were around to see the Aztecs' newfound success. Coryell and Bowden are both members of the College Football Hall of Fame, but he sides with Aztecs and Chargers fans that believe Coryell belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.
"I think he's deserving of anything he can get," Bowden said. "I think in the history of American football, he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of what he did with the passing game."
As for following college football in retirement, he says he's disturbed by recent reports of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's father alledgedly shopping his son for a $100,000 to $180,000 payment in exchange for a commitment. It bothers him to hear such reports so close to the Reggie Bush scandal at USC.
"I don't know anything except what I'm hearing on ESPN," Bowden said. "It's a story that scares me. Here you have a Cinderella story and something like this comes up and you don't know yet what will be the outcome."
Bowden blames the people, agents and so-called runners, on the periphery of college football.
"What you have is these dadgum crooks," Bowden said. "They go to the kid, and if they can't get the kid, then they go to the parents."
As for today's SDSU at TCU game, he asked where it was being played.
"TCU needs to be concerned about them," Bowden said. "But TCU has got it going pretty good right now."
And "going pretty good" for a lot longer than SDSU did following that landmark win over Florida State and the legendary Bobby Bowden on a November night in 1977.
It's night wedged between growing bigger with Bowden's success over the next three decades at Florida Sate and being forgotten during SDSU's failures over the same time period.
Contact Tom Shanahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.