There was no way Warrick Dunn would miss this.
Neither would Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, Leroy Butler or Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke.
Hundreds of former Seminole stars gathered Friday to watch Bobby Bowden close out one of college football’s greatest coaching careers with a 33-21 victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.
“You can’t replace being here by watching it on TV or something,” Dunn said. “That’s something I’ll cherish the rest of my life.”
More than 350 of Bowden’s bunch turned up, many of them chiseled into Florida State lore. Some harkened from his time at West Virginia, where Bowden coached a decade before coming to Tallahassee.
Dunn, one of Bowden’s favorites, showed up in the fall of 1993 after his mom, a single mother, had been shot and killed in Baton Rouge, La.
“He was the next consistent figure in my life,” said Dunn, who hugged Bowden on the sideline as the final seconds ticked away. “He just told me his door is always open if I ever need him, and I did. To this day I call him and can talk to him about anything.”
One of the toughest players to play for the Seminoles in the Bowden era, former San Francisco 49ers fullback William Floyd, was among many who had difficulty talking without choking up.
“He’s been like a dad to me, really the first father figure I had coming up,” said Floyd, whose bone-crushing blocking protected Heisman Trophy quarterback Charlie Ward during Florida State’s first national championship season in 1993. “He had an open door policy and I used it.”
Sanders just wanted to be sure Bowden was OK about retiring a year earlier than originally planned.
“I hugged him and I looked him in his eyes and I said, ’Tell me you’re OK.”’ Sanders said Friday. “I want to hear right now that you are OK. And he said ’I’m OK.’ And we started reminiscing about the old times.”
The 80-year-old Bowden rode into retirement, carried on the shoulders of his Seminoles.
“It’s got to be memorable,” Bowden said. “It’s my last dadgum ballgame after 57 years of coaching.”
Jermaine Thomas ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and MVP E.J. Manuel threw for 189 yards and ran for another score.
Florida State (7-6) rallied from a 14-3 deficit in the first half, giving Bowden his 33rd straight winning season at the school. Noel Devine ran for 168 yards and a touchdown for West Virginia (9-4).
No. 5 Florida 51, No. 4 Cincinnati 24
Tim Tebow rose above all the distractions caused by coach Urban Meyer’s uncertain future and capped a storied college career with his finest performance.
It was the best in BCS history, too.
Tebow threw for a career-high 482 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 51 yards and another score, and fifth-ranked Florida (13-1) overwhelmed No. 4 Cincinnati (12-1), 51-24, Friday night in the Sugar Bowl.
Tebow finished with 533 total yards — more than anyone in Bowl Championship Series history.
No. 8 Ohio State 26, No. 7 Oregon 17
Terrelle Pryor passed for a season-high 266 yards and two touchdowns as Ohio State stopped its three-game BCS losing skid.
Pryor ran for 72 yards and threw a 17-yard TD pass to DeVier Posey with 7:02 to play.
Posey had eight catches for 101 yards, and Brandon Saine caught an early TD pass for the Buckeyes (11-2) in their first Rose Bowl since 1997.
Capital One Bowl
No. 11 Penn State 19, No. 13 LSU 17
Collin Wagner kicked a 21-yard field goal with 57 seconds left and Penn State staved off a last-ditch drive by LSU on a muddy field.
Penn State (11-2) led by 13 points in the second half. But Stevan Ridley’s 1-yard touchdown run put LSU (9-4) ahead 17-16 with 12:49 left.
Auburn 38, Northwestern 35, OT
Auburn stopped Northwestern’s final trick play of the game and, after two earlier celebrations, the Tigers held on to win in overtime.
Wes Byrum kicked a 21-yard field goal in overtime, and the Tigers (8-5) overcame several mistakes that gave the Wildcats (8-5) chances for their first bowl victory in 61 years.