The Post-Journal

Remembering Bowden’s Early Days

While watching the Orange Bowl game between Penn State and Florida State on Tuesday night, Sam Restivo received an interesting telephone call from a friend. The friend called to say that it was 25 years ago that Restivo was at the Orange Bowl in a Florida State uniform.

“I didn’t think it was 25 years,” said Restivo, who completed his second season as Jamestown High School’s head football coach in November.

And a quarter of a century ago, Bobby Bowden was in only his fifth year as the head coach at Florida State. Now at the age of 76, he leads Division I-A in victories with 359.

It was 1980 and Bowden was feeling at home at the Tallahassee, Fla., campus and was coming off an 11-1 season. In contrast, Restivo was a freshman from JHS, where he earned all-state honors for the Red Raiders as linebacker.

Restivo first met Bowden on a recruiting trip in December of 1979.

“I probably spent 30 minutes with him,” he recalled. “He wasn’t an icon back then. I liked him. He didn’t make you any promises. He sold the football program along with the university. It was just a regular conversation.”

And while watching Bowden on the sidelines on Tuesday night, Restivo saw that his former coach hasn’t changed.

“With him, what you see is what you get,” he said. “Some guys put on a little bit of show when they get in front of the camera. Coach Bowden is a devout man of faith who happens to be a football coach and those people don’t change. They always remain the same.”

Restivo admitted that when he arrived at Florida State and became a member of the varsity for four seasons, he would never have predicted Bowden would still be the Seminoles’ coach 25 years later.

“I knew two things,” he said. “The media loved him and that he had a nice way of communicating with not only players, but also people. Kind of that hometown, lay-it-out-there way he phrases stuff. People really liked that and it gave him that good-old-boy label.”

At the end of his freshman season in which Restivo was a center, long snapper and defensive lineman, he found himself at the Orange Bowl where the Seminoles lost to Oklahoma, 18-17, for a 10-2 record.

“That whole year was kind of shocking,” Restivo said. “It’s a learning experience, you’re trying to get used to living independently. You’re also trying to find a group of friends you can fit in with that are on the football team because when you are a football player, the only friends that you have are football players.”

But when game day came, he recalled, Every Saturday night was like a dream come true. It was special.”

In 1981, Florida State slipped to 6-5, which was the Seminoles’ worst record until they finished 8-5 this season.

In 1982, Florida State bounced back with a 9-3 record and a 31-12 win over West Virginia, Bowden’s former employer, in the Gator Bowl. And in 1983, Restivo’s senior season, the Seminoles went 8-4 and defeated North Carolina in the Peach Bowl.

“We had really good teams in the early ‘80s,” Restivo said. “We never won a (national) championship, but I would say ’78, ’79 all the way up to ’85 or ’86 the program was really building momentum.”

And the momentum led to a pair of national championships in 1993 and 1999. Also, beginning with that Gator Bowl in 1982, the Seminoles made 14 straight bowl appearances without a loss.

Restivo said Bowden made all of his bowl experiences enjoyable.

“I remember Coach Bowden wanted us to have a good time,” he said. “He let us know that it was going to be business first. Let’s get our two or three hours of practice in, but then have fun.”

One thing that wasn’t fun was endless practice from the last regular season game until the bowl and Restivo went through it three times. And that usually leads to the bowl teams being stale when they finally take the field.

“Like it was last night, it was very sloppy,” Restivo said about Tuesday night’s Orange Bowl. “It’s a grind, but you do it because of TV revenue. It would be much better to have the bowls two weeks ago.”

But he added, “Spring practice is only three or four or five weeks away. The minute those guys get done with vacation and come back to school, there’s winter workouts and there’s all kinds of mandatory things. Just because you’re not in your uniform on the field practicing, it’s not like you have time off. You’re working out and you’re under the scrutiny of the coaches. Everybody’s kind of rehuddling and you go out and start to fight for positions or new positions, and you’re learning things and you have to worry about freshman coming in. There’s never any down time.”

And it was always a fun time playing under Bowden, according to Restivo.

“Every week he had a gadget play especially designed for that week,” he said. “He had a fake field goal and a fake punt and I know those because I was on those special teams. And the son of a gun was never afraid to use it. I can remember we were playing Ohio State and we had a fake field goal. It was a crucial time and he called it and we scored a touchdown. He was fearless in that way.”

By the time Restivo was a junior at Florida State, he was involved in 35 to 40 percent of the offensive plays. But as a senior, he suffered an injury and never returned to 100% playing ability. That’s when he wished he had been red-shirted as a freshman so he could have played another season at full capacity.

And that was the end of Restivo’s playing career. He was drafted by Jacksonville in the USFL, but didn’t make the team. However, he wasn’t through with football as he went into coaching and seems to be patterning himself after his former college coach.

In Bowden’s first season at Florida State, the Seminoles were 5-6, but then went 10-2 the following year and won the Tangerine Bowl. Restivo’s first Jamestown team in 2004 was 2-7, but bounced back to an 8-2 record in 2005 and won the Class AA Bowl.

Maybe the Red Raiders opponents should be on the lookout for gadget plays next season.

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