When Tommy Bowden was named head coach of Clemson on December 2, 1998, the opportunity arose for the first ever meeting between a father and his son as opposing head coaches on the football field.
Out of this unique situation came something that is good for all of college football. This series became known as the “Bowden Bowl” (1999–2007).
Florida State and Clemson have faced each other on a yearly basis since Florida State joined the ACC in 1992. In 2005, when the ACC expanded to twelve teams, Clemson and Florida State were placed together in the Atlantic Division, it was the continuation of a wonderful rivalry. To this day, except for last year’s COVID-19 (hmmm…) postponed game, the teams continue to face each other yearly. Most often it’s a date circled on every fans calendar.
This idea, this series, was an opportunity for Clemson to gain the national spotlight. Introducing the college football world to the great gameday atmosphere and pageantry unique to Clemson and Death Valley. It’s not a stretch to say these games proved a public relations bonanza for the Tigers.
Florida State was a national powerhouse and the media followed them wherever, and in this particular instance that was to Clemson. It’s funny, I remember hearing of this thing called the “Bowden Bowl” and thinking…hmm, interesting. I was right, it was a much anticipated game each year.
Bowden Bowl I, in 1999 was the largest crowd ever to watch a game in Death Valley, with an attendance of 86,200. It was an awesome game which Florida State won 17–14 on their way to a perfect, wire-to-wire national championship. I was there and can still feel, not only the electric atmosphere but a twinge of pain in losing such a close one.
The other eight games in this series were, with few exceptions, competitive and always entertaining. It became a launching pad for what we are seeing today with respects to the wild success that became Clemson Football.
The elder Bowden won the all-time series, with five wins and four losses. The son, Tommy Bowden’s first win came in 2003 on his father’s birthday, defeating then third-ranked FSU and damaging their prospects for a national championship. I think Bobby was a tad bit perturbed post game at midfield that night.
Interestingly enough, during the Bowden Bowl era FSU won five conference championships. Tommy Bowden’s Tigers beat two of those ACC champions: in 2003 and 2005. As with all good things, the Bowden vs. Bowden editions of the series ended when Tommy resigned as head coach six games into the 2008 football season. It was an ending to something unique but the beginning of something remarkable.
Who could forget seeing Ann Bowden, Bobby’s wife/Tommy’s Momma sitting watching the game wearing a half FSU and half Clemson sweatshirt. By her own confession she was conflicted. Her eldest son competing against her husband, great stuff.
It was a great time to be a Tiger. I swore, with every loss to Bowden’s Seminoles, I could never like him but I lied. He was supremely likable and the consummate southern gentleman. Mostly, he was a winner. He is missed by many, even his former adversaries he so often beat.
Those midfield postgame meetings that always ended in a big man hug and some hilarious quips were worth watching, win or lose. The four Bowden Bowls won by the Tigers were counted by Tommy Bowden as some of the most important of his coaching career. I know, from a fans perspective they were, and still are, treasured memories of a special time. A time when the world first discovered, thanks to “The Bowden Bowl” this special place called, Clemson.
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