Gold Medal yet another honor for coaching legends

The way I figure it, after Thursday, the only awards that Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno haven't won yet this year are the Nobel Prize in chemistry and the Country Music Association's Vocal Duo of the Year.

In addition to 713 games, four national championships, and their election two weeks ago to the College Football Hall of Fame, the legendary coaches of Florida State and Penn State added the Gold Medal, the most prestigious award given by the National Football Foundation, to their résumé on Thursday.

What began as a nice sales gimmick for the FedEx Orange Bowl -- at least we can push Bowden and Paterno -- has evolved into a year-long celebration of the contributions they have made to their sport and to us. That just goes to show you that sometimes the best things happen without any planning at all.

"It's probably the finest honor I'll ever get," Bowden said in a media teleconference Thursday. "I can't think of anything I would be honored more with down here on this Earth. It's a great privilege to go in there with Joe Paterno, who I have so much respect and love for."

Paterno echoes Bowden's sentiments and added, "Hopefully, it's symbolic of what college football should be and the efforts that Bobby and I have put into it to make it a successful experience for young people."

The Gold Medal has been the stuffiest, most self-satisfied award given by what has long been a stuffy, self-satisfied organization. (Full disclosure: I am, at least up to the writing of that last sentence, a new member of the NFF's Honors Court, which elects the Hall of Famers).

The award "recognizes an outstanding American who has contributed significantly to the sport of college football and our country." The former recipients include seven presidents, including the last six Republicans prior to George W. Bush. (Note to W: Keep your dance card open). It is presented at a black-tie, nearly male-only dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that has been compared to the Hundred Years' War, only longer.

That dinner will be a tough ticket this year. What's fascinating is that only three coaches won the Gold Medal before Thursday: Amos Alonzo Stagg, Red Blaik and Paul Brown. Perhaps the foundation is loosening up. How else can you explain the Contribution to Amateur Football Award that's going to my colleagues at College GameDay? That means that the same organization that has honored Gen. Douglas McArthur and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron "Whizzer" White will also honor a television show made famous by Lee Corso wearing an oversized Husker head.

Let's see the sun rise in the east the day after that one.

Good for the National Football Foundation and, more important, good for Paterno and Bowden. They needled and bragged on each other in the teleconference Thursday. They talked of the way the game has evolved in their combined 110 or so seasons as college coaches. Neither one of them is conversant with technology. "That's why I hire those assistants, to run those computers," Bowden said. "If I ever retire, I'm going to buy me one."

Added Paterno, "They go in there and push a couple of buttons and every off-tackle play is on-screen. I don't know what the hell that does for anybody."

Somehow, I don't think either of these guys has an iPod.

More important, neither coach believes that the players are all that different from when they started.

"Have boys changed? No, they haven't," Bowden said. "The parents have changed. They aren't raising their kids they way they were 40, 50 years ago. I deal with the kids the same. Some of them don't have the same upbringing. Boys haven't changed. Parents have changed."

"God bless you, Bobby," Paterno chimed.

Later on the call, Bowden returned to the idea. "I think I've finally got to the point where I can really help kids," he said. "The kids are raised today without families. I think I can help some of these boys if they'll listen to me."

Bowden and Paterno will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and receive their Gold Medals on the same night this December at the Waldorf. It's hard to imagine how any other night this season, and that includes the BCS Championship Game, will compare.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.