It's been 417 games since Florida State took the field with a new head football coach. And now that the Bowden years are beginning to fade, most Nole fans like to remember the good times. One of them is Doc Lawrence. Since graduating from FSU, he's been a journalist with a long career in print, online, broadcasting, and television. A regular contributor to Wines Down South, he's launching a new syndicated radio show to be heard throughout the Southeast. Today, Doc shares a memory of a coach who was never too busy for people he didn't even know.
Some of my favorite personalities are chefs, folk artists musicians and occasional sports celebrities. I include Mario Batali, the late Howard Finster and Willie Nelson in this assemblage and among the sports stars, no one has brought more joy to me than Bobby Bowden. I first crossed paths with him in 1976, where he met with a small group in an Atlanta hotel to chat about his plans as head coach for FSU. He was the most relaxed man I ever met and he was funny. The kind of humor that doesn't offend.
Over the years I saw him speak before auspicious gatherings like the Atlanta Touchdown Club and even churches where he would stand in for a minister rather admirably. You could look for piousness or some self-serving motive, but you'd leave empty handed. Bowden was true to his core beliefs and about as fairminded as any spiritually based fellow I know. If one of his purposes was to lead others by his example, he did a fine job by my standards.
One season, Bowden played a killer schedule that included road games with Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Notre Dame, LSU and Nebraska, all in a row and all on the road.
The fearsome schedule caught the imagination of major newspapers all over America and Bowden, to the surprise of the sports world, came home with victories. His comments after defeating Notre Dame still bring chuckles. "Today Touchdown Jesus (a reference to the statue at the Notre Dame field), is a Southern Baptist." Bowden is a Southern Baptist.
Seminole bench, celebrating a bid to play in Miami's Orange Bowl game. Bowden was asked what he thought about the debris thrown on the field: "I'm just thankful they weren't invited to the stone bowl," he said.
One beautiful autumn morning, I drove over to FSU's stadium with my then young son and noticed people going in and out of the athletic offices adjacent to the stadium. We walked in and I noticed a door open on the second floor balcony. Why we walked up the stairs, I'll never know. But, sitting at a desk with framed photos of Bear Bryant and Dolly Parton was Bobby Bowden reading what appeared to be letters.
"Come on in," he said, and after introductions requested that my son call him when he reached his junior year in high school. "Be sure," he said with laughter, "to ask for only me if you are six four and weigh around 220 pounds and run fast."
Before leaving, he went to his closet and gave my wide-eyed son an autographed poster of Deion Sanders who would go on to make consensus All-American that season before becoming a NFL legend.
I've interviewed numerous coaches and a fair share of jocks. Most are congenial and some are good with people. But none ever came close to Bowden's easygoing ways. He put a good face on college football and was always just a phone call away if you needed him.
Bob Neal, the distinguished sportscaster, was once a play-by-play college football announcer for Ted Turner's TBS and covered several FSU games. He introduced Bowden once to an Atlanta VIP gathering and said that one thing he admired about the coach was that Bobby made college football fun.
Bobby Bowden, the man who introduced "dadgummit" into football's lexicon, has earned a good rest with days on the links and long vacations with family and friends to faraway places. I will miss him each time I see another insincere overpaid windbag coach talking mindless trash to a television camera.