A week ago today the legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden passed away. My connection to him is that he was coaching at Florida State University at the same time I was a student there, 1997-2001. Another interesting fact, up to that point in my life, he had coached FSU for all the years I had been alive.
I’ll try not to get into the unceremoniously way he was basically forced to leave the university, and how FSU, since then, has done enough to lose my support… I rather talk about what happened just yesterday, 6 days after his passing. You see, when I had heard that he died, I was sad, of course. But it was yesterday during his memorial in Tallahassee, Florida that it really sank in. I didn’t know him. I don’t think I had ever even said one word to him. The experiences I had with Bobby Bowden were just observing him as he coached, and a few events where he spoke or preached. But it was in those moments that I, just like so many others, grew to not just respect him, but to really admire and be inspired by him.
As a man, he was full of charisma, humor, and kindness. As a Christian, he was honest, encouraging, and real. These qualities are why so many people loved him. It wasn’t about the wins, although those were nice. It was his personable nature that drew so many people to him. He may be a coaching icon because of what he did with FSU on the football field, but he’s a legend for how he made people feel.
Since the memorial yesterday, I’ve felt a certain sadness that I didn’t feel earlier in the week. It’s like it finally registered in my brain that I’m living in a Bobby Bowden-less world. There was comfort knowing that, even though he wasn’t on the field coaching anymore, he was around. Going all the way back to the 80s when I was very young I learned from my parents to love FSU and FSU football. It was (at least in part) because of Bobby, although I didn’t know that at the time. I go back to the word “comfort.” It’s like a sense of safety, I think. Like a kid with a security blanket, or someone who holds a special trinket in their pocket that reassures them everything is going to be OK. Just knowing Bobby was around was a sort of security blanket that, even as crazy as the world gets, everything is going to be OK. Another thought I had during the memorial is this: how many coaches will have a celebration like this? His influence on and off the field reached past rivalry lines, through families, and all across the country. I can’t think of any other coach that will be celebrated as much as Bobby Bowden. There might be coaches with more championship wins, more regular season wins (not yet, though!), more players that go on to play in the NFL, but the fondness people feel for Coach Bowden, I just don’t think that has been or will be matched, maybe ever. I mean, even Tim Tebow who played for rival university of florida, tweeted this:
And another rival from Florida, the University of Miami tweeted this:
And one of my FSU intramural football rivals Chris Farrington, whose team won the intramural championship under verrrrrrryyyy suspicious calls from the referees, said this:
How many other coaches in the history of coaching, whether past or presently coaching, would warrant such respect from not just their own school, but rivals? I can’t even think of ONE. Plus, that whole intramural thing? It’s still under heavy protest!!
But to be serious again for a second, the silver lining to this huge loss is that it was his faith in God that guided Bobby every day of his life. And all of us, we can have that same faith, too. I can’t tell you how many times all I could do was pray to God for help (because I’d tried to fix whatever it was on my own and usually just made it worse) and what’s really great and amazing and almost hard to explain, He helped! So even though Bobby is gone, there is a higher comfort, a more sure security that can be found in God and in His Son, Jesus. I’m thankful for that and I’m thankful for Bobby Bowden!
I’ll conclude with a couple of photos from the local newspaper back in the late 90s/early 2000s. The first is when he became the winningest coach in college football history. The second is me and a few of my college friends when we painted our chests for a home game against our rivals, the gators.
I love a lot of what was said at the memorial yesterday, so I’ll end with a quote from one speaker, “Rest well, Coach.”
-Out of the Wilderness