JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Bobby Bowden wrapped himself Wednesday in a gold Florida State sweat shirt and garnet jacket, then pulled on his white cap adorned with the same logo and headed onto the Seminoles' practice field.
Somehow, he didn't realize it was for the final time.
After 44 years of coaching and thousands of practices along the way, a Bowden-coached team has gone through a full-scale workout for the last time. The Seminoles completed preparations for Friday's Gator Bowl against West Virginia, and now only a light walkthrough — a dress rehearsal, really — remains before Bowden's final kickoff.
"Hadn't thought about it," Bowden said Wednesday morning, bundled against an unseasonable north Florida chill. "Those are not in my mind. It's not like I'm keeping score: 'Oh, it's the last day; oh, it's the last this.' It's the last thing I want to think of, really.
"But it's the last day."
Bowden announced his retirement earlier this month, though he and members of his family have acknowledged in recent weeks that his hope was to coach through the 2010 season before Florida State's reins were turned over to offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.
The 80-year-old Bowden hasn't wanted the Gator Bowl to be all about him and his legacy, but understands why it's also unavoidable.
"To me, there are bigger things in life," Bowden said.
He's done very little on-field coaching this week, with plenty of tributes and appearances going on. He'll be the grand marshal of a parade Thursday, then will lead a pregame "Florida State Team Walk," arranged by the Gator Bowl and the city of Jacksonville on Friday.
"As long as it don't lead to the cemetery," Bowden said. "Be sure it leads to the stadium, will ya?"
Bowden will retire with the second-most wins in major college football history, behind only Penn State's Joe Paterno. Bowden has 388 wins at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State, where he's been for 34 seasons.
Given Jacksonville's proximity to Tallahassee, about a 2-hour drive across Interstate 10, Bowden has had no shortage of well-wishers this week.
"I appreciate everything they're doing," Bowden said. "But if we were playing for the national championship, I'd probably say I can't do all this."
Both Bowden and Fisher have spent plenty of time during this bowl season reminding the Seminoles that, amid all the hubbub, there's still a football game to prepare for and try to win.
And so far, neither the outgoing nor incoming coach have found that extra attention on this game has distracted Florida State.
"Every bowl game I've ever been to, no matter how good a team you have, you have one guy that comes in late or one knucklehead that does something wrong," Fisher said. "So far, we've been good. Our kids have acted good. And by the way they've practiced and their work ethic, I think they've approached it the right way."
That's what Bowden wanted.
Regardless, his players say this game has a distinctly different feel, simply because of the historic ramifications.
"We have to win this game," Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel said, as the whistle blew summoning him onto the field for the final practice of the Bowden Era. "It's a must for us. Every game is a must, but especially this one, because it's coach Bowden's last game."