January 3, 2001 - by
A Lesson That Never Gets Old

Jan. 3, 2001


By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Writer

MIAMI – Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.


That was Bobby Bowden’s mantra when he took the Florida State job 25
years
ago.


Today, the 71-year-old coach is the king of college football. But back
then,
he was just another upstart trying to take a program into the big time.

Bowden knew that meant playing the best on their terms. What he didn’t
know
was how he was going to beat teams that were always broader in the shoulder
and
quicker on their feet.

A quarter-century later, Bowden has no problem remembering exactly when
the
biggest piece of the puzzle fell into place. Fittingly, it came against the
same Oklahoma program that stands in the way of his quest for a third
national
championship.

Bowden’s Seminoles were just beginning to make their mark when they
lost to
the Sooners’ juggernaut in back-to-back Orange Bowls in 1980-81. A single
play
from that 1980 game turned on his light bulb.

“I remember looking up when we handed off on a reverse,” Bowden
recalled,
“and I’m saying, ‘Oh, boy, we got them, they’re all headed in the wrong
direction.'”

His joy was short-lived. Oklahoma linebacker George Cumby, who went on
play
in the NFL with Green Bay, made his way across the field with breathtaking
suddenness and stopped the play cold.

“I thought we were fixing to make 35 or 40 yards,” Bowden said. “We got
3.”

He turned almost mournful at the memory. But he never forgot it.

“Speed. The trademark of Barry Switzer’s teams was speed. But it wasn’t
until about 1985 where we began to cut into that category,” Bowden said.

In the whimsical way sports sometimes reunites old foes, it is a
resurgent
Oklahoma team and an upstart coach, Bob Stoops, now looking to make a name
for
themselves by overtaking Florida State.

In 1985, while Switzer was winning his third national championship,
Bowden
was beginning to reap the rewards of playing the likes of Oklahoma,
Nebraska,
Notre Dame and Michigan at their places and holding his own.

That year, he welcomed a pair of lightning-fast recruits – Deion
Sanders and
Sammie Smith – and two seasons later, his roster was packed with kids who
could
flick the light switch in their dorm rooms and get under the covers before
it
got dark.

Florida State bolted to the top of the college game in 1987, beginning
a
streak of 10-win seasons, Top 4 finishes and championships.

The Sooners, meanwhile, began a slow, steady decline that wasn’t halted
until Stoops arrived in Norman, Okla., two seasons ago. Switzer, taking in
the
Orange Bowl festivities like some professor emeritus, likes almost
everything
he’s seen at Oklahoma since that day.

“I saw Bob’s enthusiasm, his smarts, the way he embraced the tradition
and
I could see all the good things were ahead of us again,” Switzer said.


The 40-year-old Stoops appreciates the endorsement. But like Bowden at
the
start of his run, he understands the hard work is just beginning.

Loading up a program with talented kids is one thing, convincing them
they’re ready to play with the best is something else entirely.


Stoops didn’t consult Switzer for advice, but like Bowden, he learned a
lot
by watching.

“I always saw him on the sidelines and watched his interviews,” Stoops
said. “He always came across as a guy that was extremely confident, and I
liked the fact that he always enjoyed the game. He always seemed to have fun
with the competition of it all, and I think that’s why his teams played that
way.”

Bowden mastered that trick long ago. A coach who can’t get his team
ready
for big games only gets so many chances. But it didn’t hurt that Bowden had
the
chance to see Switzer and his stable of big-game stars – Billy Sims, J.C.
Watts
and a dozen others – in their prime 20 years ago.

In fact, just before the 1980 Orange Bowl, Bowden found himself
speaking at
a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast right after Watts, now a
Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

“We both gave our testimony, and J.C. gave his first,” Bowden recalled.
“As soon as I heard his, I was saying, ‘God, don’t listen to him. Don’t
listen
to him.’ Boy, was he good, on and off the field.”

Bowden, too, became known as a pretty fair speaker in time.

“He was already plenty charming back then,” Switzer said. “They’re to
the
’90s what we were in the ’70s, but believe me, he didn’t learn any lessons
from
me.


“But I do remember that story about J.C.,” he added. “We met on the
field
just before the Orange Bowl and Bobby asked, ‘Can that kid play as well as
he
preaches?’

“I nodded, ‘yes,”‘ Switzer said, “and Bobby sure turned gray in a
hurry.”

His hair turned that shade not long after. But the fact that Bowden is
not
simply coaching, but thriving, should teach Stoops a lesson that never gets
old: Theirs is a business with precious few shortcuts.

Related Articles