NEW ORLEANS - Steve Spurrier is conviction. Bobby Bowden is cornball. Spurrier is strident. Bowden is smooth. Spurrier is dogma. Bowden is doubt.
The head football coaches at Florida and Florida State are a study in personality contrasts, as different as Bobby Knight and Doris Day.
''He has the ultimate of confidence,'' Bowden said of Spurrier Wednesday. ''I work out of fear a little bit. I'm a fraidy-cat. He's wondering how much he's going to beat us. I'm sitting there afraid we're going to lose.''
The boxing bromide is that styles make fights, and this is also true of the Sugar Bowl. College football's national championship will be settled this evening by in-state rivals with as much in conflict as in common.
Spurrier is the architect of college football's most sophisticated pass offense; Bowden a staunch believer in the basics. They compete for the same players to serve vastly different
purposes. Spurrier's goal is to see how many points he can produce. Bowden is committed to killing the clock.
There is room for both philosophies in college football. Room at the top, in fact. Florida State is ranked No. 1 nationally entering tonight's game. Florida enters at No. 3, its only blemish a 24-21 loss in Tallahassee. Florida State is unbeaten, and yet Florida is favored. Diverging roads have led to parallel paths.
That the two coaches sometimes cross each other is inevitable. Theirs is an annual, backyard, bitter rivalry that never lacks for fresh fuel. Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, whose sister attended Florida State, once drew a picture of a Seminole stabbing a Gator in a friend's high school yearbook.
''I was young,'' he explained. ''I didn't know any better.''
Steve Superior, Bobby Boyish
Bobby Bowden is 67 years old, and sometimes conveys the naivete of a child. He escaped Florida State's renowned Foot Locker scandal virtually untarnished - ''Free Shoes University,'' was Spurrier's stinging phrase - and he is such an engaging individual that he was widely presumed innocent. The grating Spurrier gets no such slack.
Similarly, Bowden has gotten the better of Spurrier on the lingering issue of late hits by acting aggrieved by the accusations. Spurrier has interpreted some Seminoles' expressed desire to knock Wuerffel out of the game as a directive from the coaching staff. Bowden insists this is not the case. He is known as ''Saint Bobby,'' in part, because he affects martyrdom.
''Steve - as much as we've competed with each other - I don't think we've ever got personal with it,'' he said Wednesday. ''I was kind of taken aback.''
Spurrier has said nothing since to soothe Bowden. When the two coaches appeared at a New Year's gala Tuesday night, their battle lines had not budged.
''He talked a little about late hits,'' Bowden said. ''Sure did. I didn't listen all that much ... I don't remember any kind of apology. Don't expect one either.''
Spurrier has yet to back off a single syllable. The head Gator can be harsh and humorless, but he is utterly consistent.
Battle lines drawn
''Would I do it again?'' he said Wednesday. ''Yeah, probably. If some players on the other team admitted after a game that they tried to knock our quarterback out of the game, I would probably bring attention to it.''
If Spurrier had any regrets, they were too few to mention.
''It may be damaged for a little while,'' he said of his relationship with Bowden, ''but you heal. Nothing's forever. You get mad at your wife occasionally, but you make up the next day.''
Perhaps Spurrier will make peace after the Sugar Bowl, when he no longer has a stake in influencing the officials. Perhaps not. Much as they might claim to be congenial, these coaches are inherently at odds.
Wednesday, Spurrier and Bowden appeared together for a photo opportunity with the national championship trophies. Their camaraderie was as forced as their smiles.
''You all want us kissing?'' Bowden asked the photographers. ''I don't think he'll kiss me.''