And the winner is ... Joe Paterno.
Tuesday's retirement of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden assures that JoePa will ride off - whenever that day comes - as the all-time winningest football coach in Division I-A history.
Paterno, with 393 victories, and Bowden, with 388, jockeyed back and forth over the past several years.
JoePa broke Bear Bryant's record of 323 victories in 2001, but Bowden passed him in 2003. While Paterno endured tough times in the early part of the decade, the Nittany Lions have regrouped to average 10 wins per year over the past five seasons.
During that same span, Florida State could not match its amazing success under Bowden, who coached the Seminoles to 14 straight top-five finishes from 1987-2000 - a feat that will likely never again be matched - and lost a total of 27 games.
Both have won two national championships, and both are in the College Football Hall of Fame. Exceptions were made to honor them while they were still coaching, and a joint induction was planned for 2006, but Paterno had to defer it by a year after breaking his leg at Wisconsin.
Reaction to Florida State coach Bobby Bowden announcing he will retire after 34 seasons with the Seminoles.
''Bobby Bowden is undoubtedly one of the greatest football coaches of all time. Throughout his career, Coach Bowden always led his team with heart and character. As a loyal 'Nole, I think the world of him and wish only the best for him and his family. Florida State University's football program has been blessed to have him as their coach for the past 34 seasons. God bless you, Coach!'' - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
''I've been in communication with Bobby Bowden over the last few weeks and realize that this has been a difficult situation for him. Football has lost a great representative, but at the same time Bobby, and all of us who know him and care about him, can reflect with admiration on his remarkable career. Bobby accomplished a standard of excellence that is unparalleled in major college football. Having played his teams on several occasions, I can attest to the excellence of his coaching and his preparation. On top of his outstanding won-loss record, Bobby has always been an excellent role model and has stood for the highest standards in athletic competition. I wish Bobby and his family well.'' - Former Nebraska coach and current athletic director Tom Osborne.
''Few people have meant as much to college football as Bobby Bowden. He is a legendary figure in the truest sense of the word and a great ambassador for the game itself. There will be very few that will ever win as many games, but more impressive are his values and the impact he has had on those that have played for him and those that have had the privilege of working with him. Coach Bowden leaves a legacy that will be missed not only at Florida State, but in the Atlantic Coast Conference and all across college football. He is a gentleman and a true sportsman and I consider it an honor to have him as part of the ACC family.'' - ACC commissioner John Swofford.
''He is college football. The respect is always going to be there. When you look at Coach Bowden, he was a man who always had a lot of integrity. No matter which coach it was at the University of Miami, you could always talk to him and have a good time with a man with a lot of wit, learn a lot from him.'' - Miami coach Randy Shannon.
''Coach Bowden has done everything you could do. Nobody but Joe (Paterno) could ever come close to it. When we came into existence here, Florida State was everything in college football. They kind of gave us the example of what you shoot for over the long term. He's been great for college football.'' - Southern California coach Pete Carroll said.
''I hope he finds out there is another life out there beyond football. I hope he enjoys it. (Wife) Ann deserves it and he deserves it. He was one of the great ones. What he accomplished only a few have ever accomplished.'' - Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer.
''He put Florida State on the map, and you would have to know what was there football-wise to appreciate what he did. He's a legendary coach and a great guy.'' Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
''I think it's a bit of a disgrace for those making the decision for Bobby Bowden to retire. If Bobby Bowden wanted to stay one more year, I don't understand why the Florida State nation could not come together and pull in the same direction to make that happen.'' CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson.
''If you spend 34 years at the same place, you're doing something right.'' South Carolina and former Florida coach Steve Spurrier.
''I'm certainly happy that Bobby has found a solution for this most unneeded situation he was put into because Bobby Bowden is truly one of the greatest coaches not only for the state of Florida but in the nation.'' - Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger.
''The reason I attended FSU is because of Coach Bowden. His legendary leadership, wisdom and faith motivated me throughout my life and football career. Indeed, it's a sad day for all of FSU and the football world. Now, I can only hope the next coach can leave an indelible impression on young men the way Coach did when he sat in my living room.'' - New York Jets running back Leon Washington.
''It's a sad day for college football and especially for so many coaches like me who Coach (Bowden) reached out to and had been such a good friend to for so many years. Coach Bowden is a person that I've always looked up to, sought guidance from and have such great respect and admiration for. He definitely gave more to college football, and those of us who love it so much, than he could ever have taken from it. He's a great man and coach and will be sorely missed.'' - Texas coach Mack Brown.
''It was a great privilege to coach for, and be mentored by, coach Bowden, who many would consider the greatest college coach in the history of the game. I'm thankful for my relationship with him and the lesson I learned that not only is winning games important, but also keeping the game in the proper perspective. I can only imagine how many lives have been impacted by him in a positive way including my own. Other than my father, he's been the most influential man in my life.'' - Georgia coach and former Florida State quarterback and offensive coordinator Mark Richt.
''He had an unbelievable career and he's such a good person. I almost hate to see it come to a close. What they accomplished in the '90s, nobody will ever come close to that again. It was unbelievable. He meant so much to college football. I consider it an honor to have had a chance to coach against him. That's how much I respect what he's done. I wish things had worked out the way he wanted them to. But sometimes they don't.'' - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
''I think it's the right decision for him. I don't think there's any question. He had been so good for so long. You just get compared to what you had and that just made it more difficult. I think he also wanted to have another real good year if he possible. That just makes it more difficult.'' - Former BYU coach LaVell Edwards.
''I have a great deal of respect for Bobby. Over the past few years, I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with Bobby. He's one of the most genuine people I know. Bobby has been great for college football and has been very well respected by everyone.'' - Cal coach Jeff Tedford.
The two went head-to-head eight times. Penn State was 6-0 against him when Bowden coached West Virginia (1970-75). The Lions and Florida State split a pair of meetings, the Seminoles winning by a touchdown in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl and the Lions surviving a three-overtimer in the 2006 Orange Bowl.
Paterno always spoke fondly of Bowden as the two, along with their wives, enjoyed their roles as the game's elder statesmen.
"Bobby has been a tough competitor," Paterno said in a statement Tuesday. "He has meant an awful lot to the universities he coached and to the game of football overall. He and his wife, Ann, have dedicated their lives with untold hours to better the teams and universities they cared so much about. They will be missed by the coaching profession and college football. Sue and I wish them well."
JoePa always said the record wasn't important to him, but it is.
And he was destined to own it.
While Bowden and Paterno were linked by the chase, the clock was ticking faster at Florida State, which had previously addressed the nepotism on Bowden's staff, had named his successor and had established a timetable for Bowden's retirement.
Penn State, to this point, has done none of that.
That's not to say the coach-in-waiting scenario works. It clearly got messy in Tallahassee, just as similar moves at Purdue and Maryland brought losing seasons.
How will Bowden's decision affect Paterno? My guess is it won't, except that he'll have the octogenarian stage to himself.
JoePa is bearing down on win No. 400 plus the school has rolled out a new and much more expensive pricing structure for football tickets, effective in 2011. Most patrons, you would think, will want to know what they're buying, which, presuming his health and desire hold up, could help keep Paterno around beyond next season.
If Paterno bolts sooner than that, though it wouldn't be begrudged, it may look like he was hanging around just to outlast Bowden.
Because Florida State was going to owe successor Jimbo Fisher $5 million if he wasn't the FSU coach by January 2011, next year would have been Bowden's last. Most coaches - let alone legends - don't like to work the final year of a contract. They either are rolled over by then or an agreement is reached.
After next year, JoePa could be in the same position as he's currently under contract through 2011.
He went through the 2008 season as a lame duck, finished 10-2 and afterward, to soothe recruiting, was granted three more years.
Whether he'll want or the school will want to extend him much beyond 2011 will be worth watching because most 83-year-olds go day-to-day more than they go year-by-year. Of course, Paterno is not like most 83-year-olds.
Either way, with Bobby Bowden moving to the golf course, JoePa will walk into immortality with no peers by his side.
And the Division I-A record for all-time victories on his mantle.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.