When Penn State meets Florida State in the FedEx Orange Bowl (what did we do before corporate sponsorship?) on Jan. 3, their two coaches will no doubt shake hands before the coin flip. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno have both been coaching NCAA football for 39 years -- nearly as long as Castro has led communist Cuba. While Paterno has ruled State College that entire time, Bowden had a bit of wanderlust, spending a few years at Samford and WVU before landing at Florida State in 1976.
Each man has coached an innumerable number of pros and spent lots of time in the spotlight. This is not unfamiliar territory for either of them. But somehow, I don't think their first meeting in 16 years is just another day at the office for the two septuagenarians; the competitive fires obviously continue to burn bright for both.
Mostly though, I wonder what they might say to each other before the game. Maybe something like this:
"Hey, Bobby, I've won a lot of games in my time and, just when everybody thought I was done, my program's ranked number three in the nation. And I was named Associated Press Coach of the Year. Do you think I'm the greatest college coach of all time?"
"Joe, I'm gonna tell you what I tole you 16 years ago when you asked me: Bear Bryant's the greatest coach of all time. On the other hand, I have six more wins than you do. Surely even a thick-headed Yankee such as yourself would agree the Bear and I are the two greatest coaches ever."
"I've never wanted to follow your lead, Bobby, but this year, I see the merit in letting your assistants do the heavy lifting. This has to be the easiest one-loss season I ever had."
"It's about time you learned that you've got to let your assistants actually do the coaching. It won me a National Championship against Virginia Tech a few years ago. Took you long enough to figure it out. But the key to being successful is dealing with the media and shmoozing the boosters. Oh yeah, and visiting the parents of your blue-chip recruits."
"I love visiting the parents. The mothers all go ga-ga over my great head of hair. But I don't suppose you have that problem. Nice hat, by the way. Did your son get that for you as a consolation prize after Clemson kicked your butts?"
"I swear, Joe, maybe you made a pact with the devil to keep that head of hair of yours. I might be getting nostalgic in my old age, but I remember you driving a Hupmobile when you were first hired on by Penn State."
"Ha. No, it was a Stutz Bearcat. You know what I miss most about the old times, Bobby? Press conferences with about four reporters, instead of the 3,500 press passes we have to issue now. In addition to accommodating more mucka-mucks, the main reason we had to expand Beaver Stadium was to fit all the media."
"Yeah, I know. It's even worse when I play my son's team. I'd just like to get a blow dart and fell some of those fellers."
"I've thought about it, myself, Bobby. But I'd much rather like to put a blow dart in the neck of the creators of the BCS. Why can't we have a playoff, just like in basketball? No offense, but I thought I'd get a much better opponent than Florida State. I mean, we were just a few clock ticks away from being undefeated. I expected Oregon or Notre Dame, at least."
"If Notre Dame lost just one game this year, the BCS idiots would have tried to bump Texas from the championship. But four losses or not, Joe, we're still gonna kick your ass, just like I did at Virginia Tech."
"Don't fool yourself, Bobby. I hope you have a stretcher ready for Drew Weatherford after Paul Posluszney gets through with him."
"Joe, all those winters in State College have made you ornery. But Michael Robinson's not going to fare any better than Marcus Vick did against my guys. You wanna get a brandy after the game?"
"You bet, Bobby, you bet."
At least that's how I hope it goes.