Ode to Bobby Bowden


I wrote in my introductory article about how I become a college football fan and more specifically a Florida St. fan. (Which you can read about here.) But there is more to that story.
Being from Indiana, basketball is king throughout the state. And during my formative years, Indiana University basketball was a national powerhouse. Back in the early 90s, they were coached by polarizing figure Bobby Knight. Most people outside the state (and some within the state near West Lafayette) hated him. But to my dumb 10 year old brain, he was great. I called him Grandpa Bobby.
While Indiana football was basically a non-factor in the college sports landscape, I turned my attention to Florida St. football. Their games against Miami, Nebraska and my near-but-not-so-dear University of Notre Dame during that time were games that will stay in my memory forever. Leading that team was another man nicknamed by me Grandpa Bobby.
Bobby Bowden.
Bowden passed away Sunday morning at the age of 91 from pancreatic cancer. While almost 30 years later, it is hyperbole to think of him (and especially Bobby Knight) as grandfather figures, there is no doubt that he left an imprint in my childhood.
Growing up in Indiana, I don’t remember a lot of coaches from the early 90s. I had Lou Holtz coaching Notre Dame to the west of me, I also had Bo Schembechler coaching Michigan to the north of me, and Joe Paterno coaching Penn St. to the east. But being a little different, I became a Florida St. fan and Bobby Bowden was my guy. His teams were different, more exciting than the “three yards and a cloud of dust” I was surrounded by in the Midwest. Garnet and gold in a world of seemingly black and white styles of college football.
They continued to be good and fun to watch throughout my teens, winning natties in 1993 and 1999. (Peter Warrick was That Dude. If you know, you know.) I also developed soft spots for Auburn during that era as they were coached by Bobby’s son Terry and even Clemson when they were coached by son Tommy.
Obviously he retired and the Seminoles were able to maintain their level of success under Jimbo Fisher. Fisher has since moved one and the football team has fallen on recent hard times, but he still casts a giant shadow over the university. While Joe Paterno (whom he is often compared to as their win totals were similar) became persona non grata around the Happy Valley area, Bowden maintained his status as a beloved figure among fans. In 2009, Bowden announced his retirement. The last years of his coaching career weren’t stellar. However, my fondest memory involving Bowden doesn’t involve a national championship or a great game.
His post-football career included travelling all over the country for speaking engagements. Around 2010, I was working at my hometown newspaper as a reporter and as luck would have it, Bowden was coming to town. That kind of event fell under the sports department’s umbrella, so I was unable to attend. However the sports reporter at the time that was covering the event got Bowden’s autograph for me. Prior to my move it was displayed in my living room next to my autograph of Jake the Snake Roberts and drawings of my actual grandfathers. Rest assured it will be displayed again soon.
In the grand scheme of things it’s small potatoes, but from a football perspective I think this is something that might galvanize the Seminoles. They are still finding their identity under second-year coach Mike Norvell. I wouldn’t call it fate necessarily, but it just so happens that the first game of the season is against Notre Dame in Orlando. I may not want Florida St. to win a game more than that one in all my years of fandom.
Bobby Bowden is obviously not my grandfather, but I do feel like on Sunday a small part of what makes me who I am today died. And that sucks. Several years ago, Bowden wrote out on a program to a guy he didn’t know “God Bless. – Bobby Bowden” Now it’s my turn to say it.
God Bless Bobby Bowden.

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