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Bowden bowling in Baghdad, for the troops

Tommy Bowden will miss his father's final game coaching Florida State, with good reason.

With Bobby Bowden's blessing, too.

The former Clemson coach, along with Barry Switzer, Rocket Ismail, Bruce Smith, Ty Detmer and others, are in Baghdad for a New Year's Day game — “Salute The Troops,” it's being called — with hopes of providing American soldiers a reminder of what bowl season is like back home.

Players and coaches flew to Kuwait City this week, then headed to Baghdad, where the game is scheduled to take place at Camp Victory, which has hosted a slew of other visits from sports figures in recent years. The event is sponsored by the USO and Tostitos, and will be aired Monday during halftime of the TCU-Boise State Fiesta Bowl matchup.

“It's kind of a microcosm of how people in the United States feel about our troops,” Tommy Bowden said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I'm hoping we can send a message to the troops that they are not forgotten, that they are greatly appreciated by people in the United States of America. Hopefully, this can be a small dose of appreciation from the sport of college football.”

Dad's blessing

Tommy Bowden committed to participating in the game long before it was known his father's coaching career would end Friday in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia. Bobby Bowden said he was thrilled with his son's decision to visit the troops and suggested a trip to Iraq might be in his own future.

“I told Tommy, ‘When you get over there, you tell them I want to go over there,' so I wouldn't be surprised if I get an invitation sometime in the next year,” Bobby Bowden said this week in Jacksonville, Fla., where the Gator Bowl will be held. “Those guys really appreciate it.”

The game was the brainchild of Tostitos, which was looking for some halftime programming and a way to tie in college bowl season with the military.

The USO quickly got on board and said the exposure the event will receive — being on during a marquee Bowl Championship Series game — could serve as a tremendous boost for its coffers. The USO also is bringing Christmas presents, phone cards and care packages for the troops who will be part of the event.

“If you think about it, where does everybody, everybody, want to be for the holidays? They want to be home,” USO president Sloan Gibson said. “These men and women can't be home. So when you think about it, if they can't be home, you want to bring the elements of home to them. And college bowl games, that's front and center, part of what the holidays are all about.”

Tony Casillas, who played in college for Switzer at Oklahoma, said it was honor just being asked to participate.

“When I was invited to go, you're like, ‘Wow,'” Casillas said. “You're going to a war zone, an area that we all know what's going on in that part of the world and I've never been to that part of the world. I was a little apprehensive at first, then talked to my wife and family and she thought it'd be a great experience for me.”

“It's very surreal over there,” Casillas said. “My responsibility is to be a distraction for them, not that they can't do their job and be focused, but to take their minds off things for a little bit, help them speed time up, help them look forward to different things.”

To Tommy Bowden, that beats watching his father's last game.

“I already had a strong, strong appreciation of the sacrifices that the military makes,” Tommy Bowden said. “I'm going to get a firsthand taste of what it's like to be away from home in the holidays. These people put their lives on the line for the ultimate sacrifice. I'm going to come back with a greater appreciation of what these people, our troops, are giving up in order for us to live a life of comfort.”