December 17, 1998
PHOENIX – The Fiesta Bowl is still 19 days away, and already Bobby
Bowden is behind.
The Florida State coach missed his connecting flight in Atlanta on
Wednesday, and his chair was empty at a news conference leading to the Fiesta
Bowl showdown with Tennessee on Jan. 4 for the national championship.
“We’re considering starting the game with a 5-yard delay of game penalty,”
Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who did make it to Phoenix, joked that he’d
rather Bowden “leave Peter Warrick and a couple of those defensive linemen
Bowden, speaking by telephone, apologized for not being there in person.
“I had a flight out at 8:50, and I got there at 8:51,” he said. “I could
look out the window and see the plane, and they would not open the door. They
didn’t care who I was.”
On a table in front of the dais, one of the two national championship
trophies awarded was on display between football helmets from Tennessee and
Florida State. That trophy, from the American Football Coaches Association,
goes to the Fiesta Bowl winner.
The other national title trophy, awarded by The Associated Press, does not
necessarily go to the Fiesta winner, even though No. 1 (Tennessee) is playing
No. 2 (Florida State.)
Bowden wanted nothing to do with speculation that somehow, if Florida State
wins, someone other than the Fiesta winner could wind up with a share of the
national crown, despite the new Bowl Championship Series system designed to
avoid just such a controversy.
“The winner of this game will be the national champion,” he said. “That’s
already been declared. I don’t worry about that. I don’t know what the other
polls are going to do. The winner of this game is going to be the national
Fulmer said all he can do is try to make sure Tennessee wins.
“We’ve tried to take care of ourselves all year long. It’s been a real
interesting – I guess for lack of a better word – scenario for the BCS to get
to this point,” he said. “Certainly I believe the winner of this game should
be the national champion.”
Both coaches expect defense to dominate.
“It will probably be 6-3 the way these teams play defense,” Bowden said.
Tennessee is eighth nationally in scoring defense (14.4 points a game) and
is 17th in total defense (303 yards a game). Florida State is, by far, the No.
1 team in total defense (214.8 yards) and is second in scoring defense (11.5
“Their defense is as good as I’ve seen,” Fulmer said. “There are probably
some NFL defenses that aren’t as good as Florida State is.”
Tennessee is scheduled to arrive the night of Dec. 26. Florida State will
come to Arizona two days later.
That will leave plenty of time for the hype that surely will precede the big
game. Requests for media credentials and hotel rooms already have far exceeded
Fulmer expects his Tennessee team to take it all in stride, especially after
all the attention the Volunteers received the last three years, when
quarterback Peyton Manning led them to the Orange and Citrus bowls.
“I think the experiences we’ve had over the last three years will help us
as far as managing the day to day hype,” Fulmer said. “We’ve remained pretty
focused during the course of the year, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any
Fulmer said there will be plenty of Volunteers’ fans following the team to
“Everybody’s excited. I don’t know if there will be anybody left in
Knoxville,” he said. “They’re all coming to Tempe.”
Bowden is 16-4-1 in bowl games, 2-0 in the Fiesta Bowl. Even though he’s 69,
there is no indication this will be his last game. He said he intends to keep
coaching as long as his health holds out and the Seminoles keep winning.
“I told somebody the other day,” he said. “I want to retire the day
before my funeral.”