Wherever and whenever you saw Bobby Bowden on gameday you also saw the imposing figure of Major Billy Smith. The 78-year old Alabama native retired from the Florida Highway Patrol in 1985, but continued to provide personal security for Bowden every season since. And it looks like he'll be back to shadow Jimbo Fisher this fall -- the fifth Florida State coach he's been proud to serve. In fact, nobody has been a part of FSU Football longer than Major Smith.
Here's what he shared with us about his 500-plus games on the Seminole sidelines.
Major, will you be back in the 2010 season to provide security for Jimbo?
"That's a pretty accurate statement. We've still gotta talk a little bit more, but I think it's going to happen. We're going to meet again on the 25th, I believe it is. But we get along fine together. He's a good guy. He's a lot different than Coach Bowden. He's much more aggressive. He's a great motivator and an excellent recruiter. Coach Bowden was good for the program and Jimbo's going to be good for the program."
You retired in 1985 but are still a full-fledged Florida State Trooper on game days?
"The legislature passed a law that created a reserve program that allows me and a Captain that travels with the University of Florida...we're both in reserve and that way we can keep doing what we've been doing for years. But the only thing I do is with the football team during football season. I've been with four coaches and it's worked out pretty well. I started in 1964 with Bill Peterson."
Do you recall a situation where you thought there might be a threat to Coach Bowden?
"This goes several years back, but we got a letter postmarked Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The guy indicated pretty strongly that he lost a lot of money on the game the week before and in the next out-of-town game he was going to kill Coach Bowden. Well, our next game was against South Carolina up there. Of course, I called their state director of law enforcement and director of their highway patrol. I told them what we knew. They provided plain clothes guys on the sidelines...
After the game was over, as we came out of the dressing room to load up on the buses, I had told Coach Bowden that there would be a lot of law enforcement people out there. They're going to be in two lines. And I'm going to back a trooper car up as close as I can to the dressing room. So you and I are going to move fast to get in that car. And I've got motorcycles here, and they're going to take you and me and the troopers to the airport, and the team will come later with escorts. That's what we did and everything turned out great. We never heard from that person again."
Any situations that concerned you with Coach Bowden and crowds at opponents' stadiums?
"The most difficult one...we played Virginia up there. And Virginia won the ball game -- the first ACC team that ever beat Florida State. At the end of the ball game -- I know you won't believe this, but every once in a while college students drink and get carried away -- well, I would say thousands of students poured out on that field. And I told Coach Bowden, "We're not going out there." He said, "Well, I need to see George (Welch, UVA's coach at the time). I said, "Coach, you and me are fixing to get out of here." So we didn't go out and greet the coach. But Sunday Coach Bowden told me that their coach called him and said, 'You're real smart. That's the best thing you could've done was to go the other way.'"
How about the reverse situation: trying to move Coach Bowden through crowds of adoring fans?
"He always had time for people. They cared so much for him. You could call it love, probably. And not many people would take the time with them like Coach Bowden would."
You protected four different FSU Coaches. Do you think Coach Bowden was the most popular with his players?
"You saw what happened at the Gator Bowl. Three hundred and fifty former players showed up. And some of those guys I talked to hadn't been back to an FSU game in 25 to 30 years. But they thought enough of Coach Bowden that being his last game to honor him by being there to thank him for what he did for them."
Who's going to miss the other guy more, you or Coach Bowden?
"Oh, I don't know. We're just gonna miss one another. He's a great guy and I'll still see him on occasion. But, yeah, it's going to be different."