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A Good Old Fight

The Bowden-Paterno Bowl turned into a survival contest

IN THE TWILIGHT of their long and distinguished coaching careers, Joe Paterno of Penn State and Bobby Bowden of Florida State have endured the indignity of the suggestion that they find the nearest early-bird buffet and let somebody else guide their football teams. Following 16 losses over the previous two seasons, Paterno, 79, beat back the critics this year with a 10-win regular-season revival and a Big Ten title. Bowden, 76, felt the heat when his Seminoles lost three straight regular-season games, but then they knocked off Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.

Their teams met in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night and left no doubt on one critical issue: Players still play hard for the old men. Penn State freshman kicker Kevin Kelly decided the game with a 29-yard field goal in the third overtime, giving the Nittany Lions a 26--23 victory. The game was not pretty: There were 21 penalties and four missed field goals (including two by Kelly), and Florida State gained only 26 yards on the ground. But it was intense and desperate for every minute of more than four hours.

"Both teams played as hard as they can play," said Bowden.

"The most physical game we played all year," said Penn State defensive end Matthew Rice. "It was all-out will."

Just past 1 a.m. EST, the coaches met at midfield to swap handshakes and respect, 713 wins on the same plot of earth. And counting.