Monday, December 28, 2009

Salute to Bobby Bowden

I would have loved to see Florida State Seminoles Coach Bobby Bowden go out on top, say after the 1999 National Championship, but hindsight is 20/20. Bowden coaches his last game this Friday in the Gator Bowl. It will be his 33rd bowl appearance as a head coach, 31 of those as the coach of Florida State, including an unbroken string of 29 bowls dating back to 1982. WOW!

Is there anyone who doubts his place among the game's greatest coaches of all time? I won't go into all the Top 25 finishes or the gaudy stats, but the man is a coaching legend. And I was just lucky enough to jump on the bandwagon when I was 23 years old.

Eighteen years later and I can hardly believe I'm about to watch him lead the Seminoles onto the football field for the last time. I was there for many a game, including the "Choke at Doak" when the Noles mounted the best comeback in college football history and the 1999 Sugar Bowl with my mouth wired shut from jaw surgery. The latter was one of the best games I've ever attended with Bowden and Peter Warrick lifting the Waterford crystal football over their heads at the end.

For the moment I will forget the Jeff Bowden/Chris Rix years when the program nosedived, potentially soiling Bowden's dynasty. I prefer to focus on the positive, and there is plenty in Bowden's portfolio. Even through the lean years, Coach was developing talent and giving players a shot to compete at the next level, just ask NFL starters like Darnell Dockett or Chris Hope. He's always served as mentor and "father figure" to his players, some who came from rather bleak circumstances. Winning or losing, Bowden is always a standup guy.

His folksy speech and down-home mannerisms have endeared him to countless football fans and to mothers whose couches he graced on many a recruiting trip. Of all the things that will be missed most at FSU by his departure, certainly recruiting acumen will be top of the list. He would swoop in with his southern charm and steal top recruits right out from under the universities of Florida and Miami. Bowden's recruiting classes were perennially among the nation's best. There were many years that FSU dominated the top rounds of the NFL draft, sending future all-pros and hall-of-famers like Deion Sanders, Warrick Dunn, Anquan Boldin and Derrick Brooks to the pros. And every one of them have Bobby Bowden to thank for preparing them as men and as athletes. (See Top 10 Florida State recruits of the Bobby Bowden era for more.)

There is so much more I could say about the man, the legend, who was so much more to Tallahassee than just a football coach. His presence on the FSU sidelines will be missed, but it is time to move forward as we celebrate the past.

I am just thankful for his grit and longevity. I appreciate the class that he brought to the job of head coach. I am very proud to count myself among the myriad of Bobby Bowden fans. Thank you, Coach Bowden, for so many great years, for the excitement, the trick plays, the amazing athletes (Marvin Jones was one of my all-time faves), the National Championships and the mark you made, not only on FSU or college football, but on the game as a whole.

Now, as FSU transitions to the post-Bowden era, LET'S GO NOLES!!!!

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