Atlanta TV pro Dave Neal remembers Bowden

It was a recruiting pitch that few students who don't have "-athlete" attached to their name likely have ever received.

First, a meeting with Bobby Bowden. Next, watching part of a Seminoles game with then-Florida Gov. Bob Graham.

That was pretty heady stuff for a teenage Dave Neal as he was trying to figure out where he would go to college. He already knew what he wanted to do: broadcasting, like his dad, longtime Atlanta media personality Bob Neal.

An Atlanta native, Dave had always been a fan of Georgia Tech, but it didn't offer his major.

So, the meeting that day with Bowden and Graham made up Neal's mind. Florida State would be his new home.

Today, Neal still lives in Atlanta and works for Fox Sports Net and ESPN. He will handle TV duties for the Papajohns.com Bowl on Jan. 2 and radio for the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.

But in 1983, he was just a kid trying to figure out what his next step would be.

Neal's dad was going to be in Tallahassee to work a Thursday night football game for TBS, and he took Dave with him. Unbeknownst to him, Bob had phoned Wayne Hogan, then the sports information director at FSU and now an associate athletics director at Tech, and asked him if he could set up a campus tour for his son.

He did more than that.

"It was like a recruiting visit," Neal said.

Dave spent 30 minutes talking with Bowden, and then watched half of the game with the dean of FSU's school of communications. He spent the second half with Graham.

A few weeks later, Neal received hand-written letters from each of them. Bowden's note said he hoped Neal would become a Seminole. Neal said he hopes the notes are still at his mom's house, but he's not sure what has happened to them.

"They are the reason I went to that university," Neal said. "They put me down the career path I wanted to go down."

Neal is now known as one of the voices of the SEC for his longtime work covering the conference in a variety of sports and platforms.

For those who are fans of the conference in football, Neal said the sport will remain strong for a variety of reasons: the passion of the fans, the quality of the coaching, and the exposure the conference gets on TV, print and the Internet.

The 15-year, $2 billion deal the conference signed last year with ESPN is so big, Neal said both sides are still trying to figure out how to fulfill all the hours of programming agreed to.

The SEC's model of streaming live games and highlights onto Web sites a few hours later is something that likely will catch on elsewhere, Neal said.

He won't be working the Gator Bowl, where Bowden will end his illustrious career against West Virginia. Neal said it makes him sad to see Bowden retire, but it gives him an opportunity to share another anecdote about the coach.

On Neal's first day in Tallahassee as a student, not knowing anyone else, he went to Bowden's office and told his secretary that he wanted to see the coach. He said he had no inkling that was not normally done.

A few minutes later, Bowden came out of his office and spent a few minutes with him.

"It was a five-minute conversation, but I don't know how many coaches today would do that," Neal said. "To me, that's what Coach Bowden is as much as anything. He's everybody's coach, everybody's friend. In a roundabout way I owe him a lot, and he doesn't even know the impact he had on me, and I didn't even play football for him."