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Football at Florida and Florida State is getting its place in the sun

By Ross AtkinSports writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 20, 1980



Fall can be a relatively quiet season in Florida -- unless you happen to be a football fan. Then fall becomes loud and boisterous, especially around Tallahassee and Gainesville, the respective homes of Florida State and the University of Florida.

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The Sunshine State is as rabid as any when it comes to football, and the college boys are giving the natives plenty to cheer about this year.

Florida State, which once again will meet the Big Eight champion in the Orange Bowl, has risen to No. 4 in the coaches' poll with a 9- 1 record, including victories over Nebraska and Pittsburg. Florida, meanwhile, has come practically full cycle from last season's disastrous 0-10-1 season to land a berth in the Tangerine Bowl with a 7-2 record.

The 20th-ranked Gators could further frost their comeback by knocking off Miami (of Florida) next Saturday and then Florida State on Dec. 6 in a nationally televised game rescheduled for that purpose.

Miami is no soft touch, though, as Florida State will tell you. The Seminoles' lone loss was inflicted by Miami, a 6-3 team struggling to escape the shadow of that city's popular pro football franchise, the Dolphins.

The current flagship of Florida football, however, is Florida State, which has attracted national attention with its climb up the polls.

The man who has made it all happen is Bobby Bowden, the team's likable head coach. Bowden arrived on the scene in 1976 with the football program nearly in shambles. During the previous three seasons the Seminoles had gone 4-29. In addition, the program was stained by reports of a "dehumanizing" off-season training regimen.

After a successful stint at West Virginia, Bowden was eager to return to Florida State. He had served the school as an offensive coach in the 1960s, when the Seminoles' dangerous passing attack frequently made haedlines with such players as Fred Biletnikoff and Steve Tensi.

Under Bowden, FSU immediately began to improve, reaching the Tangerine Bowl in 1977 and the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of last season. Florida State entered the latter game with a perfect 11-3 record, but lost to Oklahoma 24-7.

Bowden didn't allow the defeat to dampen his spirits. "The trip to the Orange Bowl far outweighed the loss," he said. "You just don't go to a game like that for the first time and act like an Orange Bowler. I'll tell you one thing, you get a taste of something like last year and you don't ever want to let it go."

Even in defeat, Bowden got good mileage out of the game by allowing NBC-TV to wire him for sound when Barry Switzer, the Sooner coach, refused. "I thought it would be good exposure for Florida State," he explained, "and it was.I got a lot of letters from Oklahoma people saying, 'Dad-gum it, they kept showing you on the sideline and didn't show us -- and we were beating the tar out of you.'"

From the looks of things, Bowden should become an institution in front of the Seminole bench before long. "The Ballad of Bobby Bowden" was written last year in his honor, and, worried that some other school would hire him away, Florida State has signed him to an automatically renewing five-year contract valued at $ 640,000. The contract, says Bowden, "means we are married and nobody's going to put our marriage asunder."