"In came Gary, a fireball of energy," Petersen recalled Monday. "And we were like, 'who's this guy, where did he come from?'"
Paths that first intersected 22 years ago at then Division II UC Davis will meet again Tuesday night when Petersen's undefeated No. 9 Boise State faces Patterson's No. 11 TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.
It's arguably the most anticipated non-BCS matchup of the bowl season, and a coup for a bowl game in just its fourth year of existence. The Broncos are trying to complete their second unbeaten season in the last three years, while a TCU win would help the Horned Frogs' resume as one of the elite non-BCS teams in the country.
"I think it's one of the best matchups of all the bowl games," Patterson said. "Besides the national championship game, I'd put this one right up with the one that'll be played up north of here."
The two head coaches share a bond as the leaders of two of the top non-BCS programs in the country, but their personal connection started in 1986. Petersen was a senior quarterback for the Aggies and Patterson was a newly hired linebackers coach, all of 26 years old and full of intensity that wasn't often seen inside the program.
"Really different and equally as good," Petersen said of Patterson's arrival. "It was really a unique and interesting change."
Added Patterson, "I was a little bit more energetic."
While the UC Davis family tree of offensive minds - Oregon's , former college and NFL head coach [db]Paul Hackett and Petersen, among others - is well known, it can now claim a defensive forward-thinker to its bloodline, even if Patterson hung around for only one year.
At the time, Patterson was in the early stages if his career, bouncing around the country to the next job opening. It was his first venture west, after previously spending two years at Tennessee Tech. He joined head coach Jim Sochor at a time when the Aggies were the dominant Division II program in the West. From 1971 to 1990, UC Davis held at least a share of its conference title every year.
Ironically, Patterson was the defensive coordinator at Sonoma State in 1991, the school that ended UC Davis' title run.
"One thing I learned from UC Davis was I learned how to teach even at a higher level. I came from the Midwest and I found out there were different ways to do things," Patterson said.
"They didn't have whistles. They didn't raise their voice. It was a unique situation and one of those situations where you understood why they were successful. The problem for me was it didn't fit my personality."
Patterson, who isn't one to hide his emotions, left after only one year to become the defensive coordinator at Cal Lutheran. And while Petersen wasn't directly coached by Patterson, each left a lasting impression with the other, one that has carried over into their careers as head coaches.
After Boise State beat TCU in the Fort Worth Bowl in 2003, Patterson and his coaches paid a visit to Boise to swap and share ideas.
"There was a lot of information passed back and forth," Petersen said. "Gary knows what he's doing and if you get one or two things to focus on that you are not doing, it can really make a difference."
Petersen hopes there weren't too many secrets shared. His young, but talented, offense will get its toughest test of the season against Patterson's fast and aggressive defense that was second in the country and held high-powered Oklahoma to its lowest point total of the season.
The Broncos averaged 49 points over their final five games of the regular season, but those numbers came against teams with a combined record of 20-38 this season.
"It's a pretty impressive (defense) to watch," said Kellen Moore, Boise State's redshirt freshman quarterback. "They don't give up a lot of points."