Looking at the pristine green grass of Doak Campbell Stadium, it looked very peaceful and in a way cathartic.
It was August 2004 and my mother Lucy died about a week ago. When I received the call, I was in Tallahassee preparing for Media Day and the first practice at Florida State University. I hurried home, helped my sister and brother prepare the service, sent compliments, and came back. I hoped that the excitement of the beginning of the season would help heal.
Then I received a message that Bobby Bowden wanted to see me in his office.
I especially remember that day. When Bowden sits behind a desk, which is an empty stadium to my right, I can still imagine facing Bowden. I remember the big screen where Bowden looks at the tape. Football on the shelves. Trophy, photos, books, military collectibles — Behind his faith, family, and football, the next most important thing in Bowden’s life was his passion for military history, including World War II helmets. The carved wooden Seminole heads behind Bowden’s desk and features a statue of a Native American Indian on a horse, a gift from Burt Reynolds.
But what I remember most is the difference between our conversation and hundreds of other conversations with Borden. This wasn’t about football. This wasn’t the kind of question I’ve always asked since I first met Bowden in 1982. This is about life and the coach asked me about my mother — Who was she? What was her life like? What was his last day like? — And see how I was doing.
This was one of the few times I had a very deep and personal conversation with someone I covered in my 40 years in this business. But in retrospect, this doesn’t downplay many other wonderfully compassionate people who have learned that I work in this profession. This is the definition of Bobby Bowden, who died on Sunday at the age of 91. In July he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Some of the famous coaches of Bowden’s time were lost to modern coaches such as Steve Spurrier, Howard Schnellenberger, Tom Osborne, Laval Edwards and Frank Beamer.
And Bowden stood on all of them. Perhaps the most respected of his generation, he was certainly unique with his homely folk charm. No one has done a good job of “dad”. ..
Bowden was, in their eyes, the closest to his second father.
Bobby Bowden was kinder and more respectful than anyone I know. Bowden was unique, though not by others. Probably even the paradox. A man who spent his life in an intense and relentless profession. Toughness can depend on how many times you play a broken game. He was as kind, graceful and tolerant as his peers (sometimes he made mistakes). The devout Southern Baptist Convention, Bowden, never confused his priorities.
However, Bowden is still a football coach, having won 389 games (377 recognized by the NCAA) in his 44-year coach, and two national titles and 12 ACC titles in 18 years. Don’t be fooled. Year in the league.
Bowden was living a retired life as you would expect: modest, around the family
Last summer I talked to Borden before Boden was attacked by COVID-19. He sounded as usual, greeted me with “Hey, Buddy” and ended our conversation as we did many times.
“Call me anytime. I always enjoy talking to you.”
He then told me that his golf day was over. He said he was “pulled” when he walked for a recent hip surgery. He shared his daily routine — watch the news, walk the pool, read his email and answer them.
And recently, when I took my wife Anne to the dentist, I was out of the house. They stopped by the drive-through on their way home.
This was the classic Bobby Bowden. I’m still answering the email. Drive his wife to the dentist. Eat a drive-through meal. I live in the same modest home on the Killern Estates golf course I bought in 1976.
And yes, it’s still in the phone book — if you’re under 40, google it — it’s under “Robert Cleckler Bowden.”
Think about it. Imagine picking up a phone book in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and navigating to a white page to find your name: Nicholas Lou Saban Jr.
And this is, of course, Bobby Bowden, who liked to send letters and handwritten pens to paper. Others typed by his longtime assistant, Sue Hall.
A letter to everyone. Family and friends. Colleagues or those seeking inspiration. Recruit … Especially recruit.
And a sports writer. Yes, a sports writer.
I don’t know how many files I received, but when I looked up the old files, I found five, dating back to 1983. Each theme was the same. Thanks for the recent article I sent to FSU, or Bowden emailed him from a friend, complimenting me on that article (I thanked him, but I knew I wasn’t the only one), and sometimes I added a personal touch.
There is one thing for sure. He may not have actually pressed the typewriter key, but these were his words. For these letters, there was nothing to show that they were simple letters.
And the man was able to tell the story from the podium, from the practice field, or every Sunday morning while meeting with a media member who became known as “Breakfast with Bobby.” I was as good at storytelling as a football coach.
When Bowden and his family revealed that he had been diagnosed with terminal illness-later confirmed by his son Terry to have pancreatic cancer-ACC was in the midst of that football kick-off.
People began to recall. Talking about Borden’s favorite story, some wondered where ACC football is because Borden and FSU didn’t attend the meeting in 1992.
This is a man who began his career as a major college coach with a portrait in Morgantown, West Virginia, and ended up with a larger statue in Tallahassee.
After a tragic 17-16 defeat to the hurricane in 1991, a game known as Widelight I, once “they’re going to carve my tombstone …’ but he played Miami.” The man who said. “It’s only 6 inches to turn that halo into a rope.”
Another thing Bowden once said was, “If I live so long, I’ll retire someday.”
Bowden has been coaching for 55 years and has lived a fulfilling life long enough to influence thousands of young men. The effect will last forever.
He will be missed. Dadgummit.
Bobby Bowden wins football game and heart at Florida State University
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