Column: Bowden made everyone feel like a Hall of Famer, too

Aug 8, 2021, 12:16 AM | Updated: Aug 9, 2021, 6:46 am

Bobby Bowden’s greatest gift was making everybody he met feel like a Hall of Famer, too.

The patriarch of Florida State football and the coach who built a dynasty from scratch died at 91 on Sunday at his home in Tallahassee, Florida. The end came a little more than two weeks after Bowden’s family revealed publicly he had pancreatic cancer.

Bowden’s resume is among the greatest in the history of the game, with 377 wins, a dozen Atlantic Coast Conference championships and national titles in 1993 and 1999. His death brought an outpouring of tributes and memories from those whose life he impacted with acts of kindness, humility and levity.

Alabama coach Nick Saban recounted how Bowden, when he was head coach at West Virginia in the mid-1970s, reached out to him after Saban’s father died.

“Coach didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, but he knew my Dad and got word that maybe my Mom was struggling a bit back home in West Virginia,” Saban wrote in a social media post. If Saban needed to be closer to his mother, Bowden said, he would make room for him on his staff.

“How many coaches would do that?” Saban wondered. “How many people would do that?”

South Carolina coach Shane Beamer, the son of another Hall of Famer, former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, recalled how he would write letters to established coaches when he was young and aspiring to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I wrote hundreds of them,” Beamer wrote. “Very rarely heard back from any of them. I ALWAYS got a response from Coach Bowden.”

If you covered college football over the last 40 years, you almost certainly had the opportunity to speak with Bowden. His home phone number was listed. If you could catch him there, he was usually happy to give a few minutes — and a great quote or two.

The first time I met Bowden was at a Florida State practice in Tallahassee in September 2005. We chatted on his golf cart as the team worked out. Yes, the coach — one of the most accomplished in the history of the game at that point — gave an interview to a reporter he had never met before DURING practice. He even worked in a “Dadgummit,” as I recall.

Bowden was among the last college football coaches who didn’t guard the program like a fortress. He seemed to understand that you could be intensely competitive while not taking yourself or the job too seriously.

He asked about me and where I was from. He was affable and charming as I asked him, essentially, do you think it might be time to retire? Bowden said he would know when it was time to go.

At this point in his career, Bowden’s program was slipping from its lofty heights. After a record 14 straight seasons finishing ranked in the top five of the AP poll, the Seminoles reached 10 victories just once from 2001-04.

Crossing paths with Bowden over the years or calling him at home, I found it remarkable how he never seemed to forget a name or a face. Of course, he called everybody “Buddy,” so maybe he wasn’t so good with the names. Whatever the case, it didn’t matter if you had met him before. He treated everyone like an old friend.

“He was so normal,” said Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who succeeded Bowden at FSU. “He could make you feel like you knew him for 20 years in the first two minutes you ever talked to him.”

In 2010, after Florida State not-so-subtly nudged Bowden into retirement, he released a book, “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith and Football.” As part of the promotional tour, Bowden passed through New York and stopped at The Associated Press to give an interview.

Bowden wanted to make sure everybody knew his resignation was not his choice.

“Fired might be a little too strong,” he said at the time. “Pushed out ain’t bad. I was pushed out, no doubt about it. I didn’t want but one more year. Gosh, I’m 80.”

Bowden smiled and laughed through much of the interview. He made clear he was a hurt, but not bitter.

For most of the next 10 years, Bowden traveled the country, speaking about his faith, played golf and enjoyed his grandchildren with his wife of 72 years, Ann.

While Bowden would half-jokingly talk about how there was only one big event left in life after retirement and he wasn’t in a rush to get there, it turns out he had plenty left to accomplish.

Back in 2010, when I asked Bowden how his first few months as a former coach were going, he said it was great because every day was like Saturday: You’re off today and you’re off tomorrow.

Of course, for most of his life Saturdays were a workday, but the description jumped out. My retired dad had been using it for years. I told Bowden that and he asked about my father, a former New York City bus driver now residing in Florida.

Bowden grabbed one of his books and signed it to my dad: “Everyday is like Saturday because we’re retired!”

To Bobby Bowden, he and the former bus driver had a lot in common.

___

AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in College Station, Texas, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://APpodcasts.com

___

More AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Vegas Golden Knights center Paul Cotter (43) skates around New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba...
Associated Press

Rangers use 4-goal 3rd period to beat Golden Knights 5-1

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mika Zibanejad had two goals and an assist, and the New York Rangers scored three times in 1:54 in the third period to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 5-1 on Wednesday night. New York’s Artemi Panarin reached 600 career points, picking up his milestone point when he found Zibanejad, whose one-timer […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Boston Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts fields the ball hit by Minnesota Twins' Luis Arraez during ...
Associated Press

AP source: Bogaerts to Padres for 11 years, $280 million

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres and Xander Bogaerts agreed to a blockbuster $280 million, 11-year contract Wednesday night, adding the All-Star slugger to an already deep lineup. A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the contract to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical. The Padres […]
22 hours ago
Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams drives past Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) during the firs...
Associated Press

Tatum, Brown lead Celtics to easy 125-98 win over Suns

PHOENIX (AP) — The hardest task these days for the Boston Celtics might be staying humble. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scored 25 points, Malcolm Brogdon added 16 off the bench and the rolling Celtics embarrassed the sloppy Phoenix Suns 125-98 on Wednesday night. “You enjoy the moment, but you’ve got to understand why […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras heads back to the dugout during the team's baseball g...
Associated Press

AP source: Cardinals, Contreras agree to 5-year contract

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Willson Contreras is going to St. Louis to replace Yadier Molina at catcher, agreeing to an $87.5 million, five-year contract with the Cardinals on Wednesday. A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was pending a physical. The addition […]
22 hours ago
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, rear, fouls Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga during ...
Associated Press

Fontecchio lifts Jazz past Warriors in short-handed matchup

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Simone Fontecchio dunked with 1.4 seconds remaining off Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s steal and the Utah Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors 124-123 on Wednesday night in a matchup of short-handed teams. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins sat out for Golden State, while Utah was missing Lauri Markkanen and Mike […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Lawrence’s free throws give Vanderbilt 75-74 win over Pitt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tyrin Lawrence’s two free throws with 1.1 seconds left gave Vanderbilt a 75-74 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Pitt had taken the lead after Nelly Cummings capped an 8-0 run with a midrange jumper with 14.3 seconds remaining. Coming out of a timeout, Quentin Millora-Brown drove the baseline and passed […]
22 hours ago
Column: Bowden made everyone feel like a Hall of Famer, too