October 25, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State fans long have marveled at Bobby Bowden's tireless energy, wit and approachability, but as the legend closes fast on his 77th birthday his ability to positively spin a difficult situation forward may be his most impressive attribute.
Hours after saying "I feel horrible" in the aftermath of the Seminoles' 24-19 home loss to Boston College, Bowden was shockingly upbeat about the future of his program.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I feel real good about our program right now," Bowden told the media at his Sunday breakfast following the BC loss. "We have three losses, and every one of them could have been won in the last minute. We lost every game in the last minute. We had a chance to win it or had a chance to keep them from winning it. It's not like you are getting beat like Georgia Tech did last night, 35-to-something. It's not like a team is just blasting you."
Narrow defeats aside, they all count the same, and the Seminoles (4-3, 2-3 ACC) walked off their home field against the Eagles sitting all alone in last place in the Atlantic Division.
"I cannot get used to seeing the Noles dead-last in a division of the ACC," ESPN GameDay host Chris Fowler said.
Fowler, of course, is not alone.
Last place. Think about that. FSU, winners of 12 of the past 14 ACC titles, already has been eliminated from contention. Barring unforeseen events, the Seminoles will see their string of 15 consecutive New Year's Day bowl appearances end.
Heck, FSU still needs two wins just to become bowl-eligible. Though Virginia and Western Michigan remain on the schedule, that's not a slam-dunk given, either.
"We still have to get ourselves bowl-eligible," junior center John Frady said, in a moment of frightening frankness for the FSU fan base. "It's something I never dreamed I'd have to be faced with."
Somehow, Bowden found a way to revel in the bright future, citing the team's youth and its ability to remain competitive.
Of course, that optimism doesn't wash down nearly as well with the Seminoles' fan base.
"You are not going to stop that, that's true," Bowden said. "But that's true everywhere. When I first came here, we didn't have that fan base. When I first came here, they would love to be 4-3. No, we've really had such good years that the people ... I don't blame them. I can't help that. As long as the university lets me run the football team, I will run it. And when they tell me they don't want me anymore, it will be time for me to go."
Those cries are becoming louder and more prominent, hastened along by the team's worst seven-game start since 1978. In fact, FSU's 5-7 record is the worst 12-game stretch in Bowden's 31 seasons.
So while Bowden admits it's his nature to "find the bright side, find the sun," the mood among supporters has never been darker.
It was almost fitting that FSU's most recent failure came while wearing all-black uniforms, with the word "Unconquered" stitched on the pant leg, as a tribute to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Undaunted, Bowden will push forward, hoping his team will follow.
"It's not like the first time I've been through it," he said. "Something that has happened in my career throughout, anytime something bad happened, something good always followed. They nearly fired me up at West Virginia in 1974, and probably should have when we went 4-7. The next year we went 9-3 and to a bowl game, and I got the Florida State job. ... Something good is fixing to happen to us. We are going to come out of this thing."
Maybe Bowden is right, but this much is certain: There has not been this much outside doubt about the direction of the FSU program since the back-to-back 0-11 and 1-10 seasons in 1973 and 1974 under Larry Jones and Darrell Mudra, respectively.
LEE'S DAYS MAY BE NUMBERED
Backup quarterback Xavier Lee was nowhere to be found as the instant replay official for BC-FSU was reviewing the game's final play, Larry Anam's end zone interception of Drew Weatherford's desperation pass.
Lee sprinted to the FSU locker room and was not around for the official ruling on the field to be upheld, further hastening the growing speculation that his days in Tallahassee are numbered.
After he threw second-quarter interceptions against Duke, it was clear to most that Lee was not yet ready to challenge Weatherford for the starting job.
Somewhat surprisingly, FSU's coaching staff came very close to putting Lee into the Boston College game, warming him up in the third quarter with the Seminoles trailing the Eagles 24-10.
"We were fixing to," Bowden said. "When Drew took (FSU) in for a touchdown, it changed our mind. I can't afford another second quarter of the Duke game. I can't afford that. Once he shows me that's not going to happen anymore, I'll put him in. But we were going to do it the other night, (because) we didn't feel like we were getting production."
To this point, Lee has played the role of good soldier, though it's hard not to read something negative into his early vanishing act.
Bowden understands, to a point, and certainly would like to keep Lee around.
"I see kids all the time leaving and running somewhere else," Bowden said. "We've had that happen here. We had a second-team quarterback (Fabian Walker) leave here and go up to some small school and never hear from him again."
Unable to unseat Chris Rix, Walker transferred to Valdosta State and led the team to the Division II national championship.
"You might as well stay where you are," Bowden said. "Pros come out and watch you in practice. They come out every day. How about Brad Johnson? He didn't play his last year here, didn't start, got in one game (and is) still playing in the NFL right now.
"You can get seen right here, even though you are not starting. They get our practice film and look at it. Or you can go to some other little school and get to play a lot, and may not get as much attention or you won't get as much attention at a smaller school, yet you might. But I hope he stays where he is."
With each passing week of inactivity -- and mounting losses -- that seems less likely.