ORLANDO _ When he walks into Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on Saturday, University of Alabama tight ends and special teams coach Bobby Williams will have a lot of memories.
It's where he saw his son play for the state championship with St. Thomas Aquinas, the private high school powerhouse from Fort Lauderdale. He was on Nick Saban's staff at LSU when Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway for a 56-yard touchdown on the final play of the game for his lone collegiate score to give Iowa a stunning 30-25 victory in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
And, of course, he led Michigan State in the 2000 game against Florida, a 37-34 victory for the Spartans after Saban had accepted the head coaching job at LSU and left before the bowl game.
"It's a special game because I spent so many years at Michigan State, 13 to be exact," Williams said. "I wore a lot of different hats there so it will be nice to see a lot of old friends, and people from the past. I followed them pretty much throughout the whole year. They had a fantastic season."
Although Saban's assistant coaches are almost exclusively off-limits to reporters, an exception was made for Williams on Wednesday. He first landed in East Lansing under George Perles and Saban kept him on when he took over in 1995. He's since followed him to LSU, the Miami Dolphins and the Capstone.
"Eleven years to be exact," he said. "Off and on over the past few years. I had the opportunity to get to know coach when I was at Eastern Michigan and he was at Michigan State as a defensive coordinator with Coach Perles. That relationship goes back a long time. When he replaced Coach Perles I was real fortunate that he kept me on. We've been together ever since."
This, though, is a little different because Williams will be on the opposing sideline of the only school to give him a shot as a head coach (2000-02).
"That was a special game," he said of the victory over Florida and Steve Spurrier, with Plaxico Burress catching 13 passes for 185 yards and Paul Edinger making a 39-yard field goal as time expired. "The way the game had ended it was very spectacular. It was a good way to start a head coaching career."
Williams went 16-17, but became the first coach in MSU history to win his first two bowl games, and the Spartans haven't won a postseason game since defeating No. 20 Fresno State 44-35 in the 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic.
"It takes a lot of nerves, that's for sure," Williams said about coaching Michigan State. "Well, you have to deal with the media number one, the ups and downs of winning and losing and you're always competing with your in-state rival all the time. It's tough because sometimes they have a little tendency to look down on you a little bit. So you're always trying to do one better than them, but they've done a great job and they look like they're the team in that state right now."
Also on that same coaching staff, under both Saban and Williams, was current head coach Mark Dantonio, who became the defensive coordinator at Ohio State (2001-3) and Cincinnati's head coach (2004-6) before returning to East Lansing.
"He's done a fantastic job," Williams said. "The number of years and all of the coaches that have gone through Michigan State and the struggles they've had there at Michigan State, Coach Dantonio's done a fantastic job with the recruiting process, keeping everything intact and putting together a winning football team."
Talk about history
Saban's first bowl experience occurred 38 years ago here as a player when Kent State lost to Tampa 21-18 in what was then called the Tangerine Bowl.
"Good memory," Saban said. "I remember my mom and dad coming to the game."
He also recalls Freddie Solomon leading Tampa, ironically called the Spartans, with 103 rushing yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown.
Saban was a starting cornerback in 1970, but moved to safety for his last two seasons and injuries caused him to miss the last few games.
Although Kent State linebacker Jack Lambert, a future Hall of Famer with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was named game MVP, the bowl featured some other interesting players. Paul Orndorff, pro wrestling's Mr. Wonderful, had two touchdown receptions for Tampa and Olympic sprinter Gerald Tinker caught a touchdown for Kent State.
It remains Kent State's only bowl appearance and was on the heels of its lone conference championship. Despite being the 27th Tangerine Bowl (later becoming the Florida Citrus Bowl, 1983-93), it was the last time the bowl game wasn't televised.
Expect the unexpected
While Michigan State is known for its balanced offense and running game, it also runs reverses and other trick plays, including on special teams.
"Every week we're always trying to prepare for tricks in the kicking game," Williams said. "We're gonna have to be alert at all times because they've done a great job and they've executed well. We're going to have to be ready for that."
Michigan State may have had the trick play of the year when it used a fake field goal in overtime to stun Notre Dame 34-31 in September. The 46-yard attempt would have tied the game, but holder Aaron Bates took the snap and hit wide open Charlie Gantt for the touchdown.
"That's where discipline comes in," Saban said.
Saban said there were no injury concerns heading into the game. Wednesday's practice in shells was like a usual Thursday workout when the team irons out any wrinkles in the game plan. It'll have another one like it Thursday before a final walk-though Friday.
Junior center William Vlachos on facing All-American linebacker Greg Jones: "We're really looking forward to that challenge to be honest with you, me especially. He's the guy who gets everyone lined up and they kind of feed off him. He's a great player."
Fans hoping to get a glimpse of Saban at an amusement park this week can forget it, he hasn't been to any. "The team's much more important," he said. "By the time we get done doing what we're doing I enjoy a little time with Terry and relax a little bit."
Although Thursday will feature the Crimson Tide's final team excursion, the shopping spree at Best Buy where players can pick out their own gifts, everyone's beginning to turn their full attention to the game. "It's fun down here, but we also know we have business to take care of," junior nose tackle Josh Chapman said.
Thursday will feature two fan events. At 11 a.m. (local time), the Spherion Orlando Citrus Parade will be held downtown with former UCF quarterback Daunte Culpepper the grand marshal. Saban will be attendance for the 5 p.m. pep rally at Pointe Orlando (9101 International Drive).
Although Vlachos claims to not be an electronics guy ("My dad had to hook up my DVD player") one item he'll be looking for at Best Buy is the box set of ESPN's 30-for-30 series. He also visited Sea World this week: "Me and Shamu had some bonding time."