The Legend of Bobby Bowden

Jake Myers

It was announced Sunday morning that legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden had passed away at the age of 91. He was second in Division 1 wins. He was born Robert Cleckler Bowden in Birmingham, Alabama but went by Bobby. As a child, Bowden suffered from rheumatic fever that kept him mostly in his bed. He used to listen to the Alabama Crimson Tide in his bedroom, and that is where his love for football began.

Bowden’s football dreams were about to come true when he was recruited to play quarterback for the University of Alabama. The true love of his life would pave another path. He wanted to marry his high school sweetheart right after high school, and Alabama had a rule that freshmen could not marry. His love for football was great, but not greater than his love for Ann. He went on to play at Howard College (now Samford), where he also played baseball and track.

During his Howard days, there weren’t many assistant coaches. Head Coach Earl Gartman would hand the backfield over to Bobby. This would be the beginning of Bowdens true calling. In 1956 he received his first head coaching position at South Georgia Junior College where he served as the athletic director, and head coach for the basketball, baseball, and track teams. He moved up the ranks and moved to be the head coach of the Howard Bulldogs from 1959-1962. After going 31-6 Bowden got his first taste of big-time College Football when he was hired as a wide receivers coach for the Florida State Seminoles.
He later became offensive coordinator at West Virginia University and climbed his way to being the head coach of the Mountaineers in 1970. Bowden was with West Virginia for 6 seasons with a 42-26 overall record. His last game with WVU was a 13-10 win over Lou Holtz’s NC State Wolfpack in the Peach Bowl.

During the tragic Marshall plane crash, Bowden petitioned that West Virginia wear Marshall uniforms for the last game of the year. The NCAA rejected that idea but compromised on the team wearing green crosses with “MU” on their helmets for the season.

Bowden would then find himself back in Tallahassee for the job of a lifetime. He returned to Florida State as their head coach. In his first year, the Seminoles didn’t start the way that he had hoped, ending the year with a 5-6 record. It would be the only losing year during his 34 season tenure at Florida State. Bowden was 304-97-4 at Florida State, winning 12 conference titles in 18 seasons in the ACC, and two national championships (93 & 99).

Bowden retired in 2009. He had some controversies along the way. He was criticized for his players being involved in off-the-field issues and lack of control over the program. Bowden always tried to be empathetic, understanding, and compassionate for his most troubled players.

In a 1999 interview with ESPN Bowden expressed his philosophy after a few players were arrested for shoplifting at a department store. “What I don’t believe in doing is not giving a kid a second chance, because when I was coming up if someone hadn’t given me a second chance, I don’t know where I would’ve been, but somebody did”.

What Bobby Bowden wanted to fulfill in his coaching career does go beyond the field, and can be expressed with this quote explaining what he wanted his players to think about him after he was gone.

“I want them to say ‘he helped me with my spiritual life, he helped me to get along with people, he helped me become a success’, that would be more meaningful to me than anything”.

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