Bobby Bowden's Celebration of Life highlighted by his tenets of 'Faith, family, football'
Whether it was through faith, through family or through football – the three “F’s” – as former Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks referred to them, Bobby Bowden touched the lives of countless people during his Hall of Fame career at FSU.
The impressive gathering of former players and coaches who flocked to the Donald L. Tucker Center for Bowden’s “Celebration of Life” memorial at FSU on Saturday morning gave evidence of the importance of Bowden’s legacy.
“I know him. He would be so happy right now, seeing all these former players, coaches here together,” said Rev. Dr. Bobby Butler, one of Bowden’s first great players at the school who presided over the ceremony, and is now the assistant pastor at New Destiny Christian Ministries in Norcross, Georgia.
Over 300 of Bowden’s former players along with former assistant coaches like Mark Richt, Chuck Amato, Mickey Andrews and Jimbo Fisher were among the crowd of roughly 1,200 who came to pay their respects to the legendary FSU coach who passed away last Sunday at age 91 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
As they did on Friday at the Moore Athletic Center, fans lined up over an hour before doors opened to pay their respects to Bowden, mostly clad in garnet and gold jerseys and T-shirts.
Andrews, who served as the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator from 1984-2001 and coached with Bowden until he retired in 2009, asked how many people in attendance coached for Bowden.
A few stood.
But when he asked how many played for Bowden, nearly everyone seated in the section of floor seats, which stretched across the area where FSU typically plays its basketball games, stood up.
“He didn’t have his biggest wins on Saturday. They weren’t in 1993 or 1999. It was on Sunday morning, when he walked in and said, ‘Jesus said, great job, buddy!” Andrews said barely holding back tears. “Thank you, Coach.”
Impressive guest list of players, coaches
Andrews was among the guest speakers at the event, which included other former players such as Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn. Others attending included Terrell Buckley and Kez McCorvey.
Fisher, the head coach at Texas A&M since leaving FSU in 2017, returned to the school for the first time since then. Fisher, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and USF coach Jeff Scott took time from their respective preseason preparations to be in attendance.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban did not attend, but sent flowers to Bowden’s memorial service at the Tallahassee Capitol Building on Friday on his and his wife’s behalf.
Bowden’s sons, Tommy (a former coach at Clemson) and Terry, who has taken a leave of absence from his coaching position at Louisiana-Monroe, spoke at the service.
Deion Sanders, now the coach at Jackson State, was originally scheduled to speak at the memorial, but was unable to attend. Sanders planned to be with Bowden’s family on Sunday before a family-only service will be held in Trussville, Alabama on Monday morning.
Saturday’s ceremony began with a violin rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” played by former FSU quarterback Charlie Ward’s daughter, Hope, and accompanied on the piano by Bill Peterson, a professor of music in Jazz Studies and Music Theory/Composition at the school.
Bowden definitely did things his way during a career in which he won 377 games during his four-decade Hall of Fame career, which included 34 seasons at FSU. Bowden’s Hall of Fame career included a pair of national championships and 12 ACC championships at a Seminoles’ program he put on the map by the end of the 1970s.
It also featured performances by the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir and a final performance to conclude the ceremony by the FSU Marching Chiefs.
Brooks, who spoke in Sanders’ place, and shared a message from Sanders to Bowden’s family expressing such gratitude.
“When (Sanders) needed a Godly man in his life, coach Bowden made him a Godly man and helped him have a belief in Jesus Christ every day,” Brooks said.
Ward, the Seminoles’ first Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback of their first national championship team in 1993, also reflected on how much Bowden’s influenced strengthened their religious faith.
“He prepared me to see what humility looked like as a leader,” Ward said.
Family mattered to Bobby Bowden
Brooks shared a story from his freshman season when he was called into Bowden’s office due to getting a C in a class with his mom on the phone. Brooks said he didn’t know his mom was on the phone and Bowden didn’t know explicit language that would come out of her mouth when she was told.
Brooks credited Bowden’s influence in moments like those when he kept a close relationship with his family to make sure his academics stayed on track.
Bowden’s daughter, Ginger Bowden Madden, read from a note that Bobby wrote his then-girlfriend, Ann, who went on to be his wife of 72 years, when he went to go play football at Alabama in 1949.
Bowden transferred from Alabama to Howard College (now Samford) because Alabama didn't allow scholarship players to be married at that time.
Football a priority, but not 'THE' priority
Dunn noted how three recipients of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (himself, Brooks and former Seminoles wide receiver Anquan Boldin), which recognizes outstanding community service, were coached by Bowden.
Dunn met Bowden only months after the tragic death of his mother. Says he's where he is now because Coach Bowden took a chance on him, a 5-foot-9 running back who was really 5-foot-7.
As he stepped onto the stage, which was adorned with several assortments of flowers, Richt took a long pause before opening his speech and softly said: “It was an honor to coach for him.”
Terry Bowden reminisced about the kindness his father always showed them, said: “Football was always A priority for my father, but it was never THE priority.”
“There was not a single player on his team he didn’t care about,” Andrews said. “It didn’t matter whether they were a star or a walk-on.”
Ward expressed his gratitude for Bowden maintaining his faith in his abilities and supporting him, as a two-sport college athlete, to continue playing basketball.
But most of all it was Bowden’s lessons on perseverance that made the biggest impact on him and so many of his teammates.
“He may be dancing in Heaven,” Ward said. “But his legacy will stay behind though all the people he impacted.”
Reach Andre Fernandez at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @FernandezAndreC.
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