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Bobby Bowden memories: Classy coach, gracious in victory

Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 3:48 PM MDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2021 at 3:51 PM MDT
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(Gray News) – The world lost a man of character and extraordinary kindness with the death of Hall of Fame college football coach Bobby Bowden.

Bowden died early Sunday at 91.

In 40 years of coaching major college football, he won 377 games – 315 of them during his 34 seasons at Florida State – and two national championships.

I interviewed Bowden dozens of times during the mid to late 1980s when I worked at a Tallahassee radio station.

He was a gentleman and always made time for me as a young reporter, even when ESPN was waiting.

Late one Friday afternoon, I arrived unannounced at the athletic complex hoping for a last-minute interview before a Saturday game. His secretary told me to go sit in his office and he would be with me shortly.

True to her word, it wasn’t long before the coach walked in. “How you doin’, buddy? Whatcha need?” Bowden said in his folksy Southern drawl.

A radio network was paying me to get some comments from Bowden and then ship back the cassette for a story the following week.

Ever the professional, he asked, “Do you want long answers or short?”

I laughed and said, “Probably in the middle,” because I didn’t know exactly what length the network would want.

“OK, let’s go,” the coach said.

He answered every question, thanked me for coming by and left me alone in his office.

It gave me a moment to admire his many helmets, footballs, and trophies while I packed up my gear.

I first became acquainted with Bowden’s character at the start of the decade when I was a student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

At the time, the Cornhuskers were a perennial football power.

In October 1980, Bowden brought 16th ranked Florida State to Lincoln in what turned out to be a classic matchup.

The game wasn’t decided until the final seconds when a fumble by No. 3 Nebraska was recovered by the Seminoles just 10 yards short of the endzone.

Florida State won 18-14 as time ran off the clock.

What happened next left an impression on me, the state of Nebraska and Bowden.

After a moment of stunned silence, Husker fans burst into applause. They knew they had witnessed something special.

Bowden wrote an open letter to Nebraska media outlets a few days later expressing his appreciation.

Gentlemen:

I have been coaching college football the past 28 years and have played before some great crowds in this country. I have never seen people with more class that I saw at Nebraska last week. The Nebraska fans, players, cheerleaders, band, officials, coaches, etc., gave me a living testimony of what college football should be about. I actually had the feeling that when we upset the Nebraska team, that instead of hate and spite the Nebraska fans thanked us for coming to Lincoln and putting on a good show. This is nearly unheard of in today’s society. Nebraska you are a great example for Americans to copy. I hope we show half the class your people do.

Sincerely,

Coach Bobby Bowden

It was a classy move and one that cemented Bowden in the hearts of Nebraskans as their second-favorite coach to Tom Osborne.

Husker fans of that era are certainly remembering it again on word of Bowden’s death some four decades later.

It seems only fair that college football fans everywhere should know the story, too.

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