Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden died on October 16, 2018 at the age of 89. Bowden led FSU to a national championship in 1993 and retired as the winningest coach in college football history.
Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, and Charlie Ward all shared their thoughts on Bobby Bowden’s recent passing.
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Warrick Dunn had recently lost his mother and was concerned about how he would care for his brothers back home in Louisiana when he came to Florida State in 1993.
Coach Bobby Bowden, on the other hand, made him feel at ease in ways that had nothing to do with football.
“Coach Bowden recognized something in me that no one else saw,” Dunn remarked at a memorial service for Bowden. “He believed in me, which is a big thing for an 18-year-old who is still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Coach is the kind of guy that molds youngsters into men through faith and knowledge.”
Speaker after speaker on Saturday delivered the same message, eschewing virtually all mention of Bowden’s famous football coaching career in favor of sharing why he was a guy they admired and admired. Every tale and narrative centered on Bowden’s religion, his belief system, and the way he treated his players, coaches, and, most importantly, his family with care and compassion.
Bowden died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 8 at the age of 91, but the ceremony inside the Florida State basketball arena was more of a celebration of his life than anything else.
Bobby Bowden, a long-time Florida State coach, is surrounded by Florida Highway Patrol troopers as he lays in state at the Tucker Civic Center during a public memorial service. Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press
More than 300 former players and coaches came to pay their respects, including Peter Warrick, Terrell Buckley, Derrick Brooks, Charlie Ward, Brad Johnson and Chris Weinke. Also in attendance were Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, USF coach Jeff Scott and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who succeeded Bowden as Florida State coach and spent eight seasons as the Seminoles coach — winning a national title in 2013.
Fisher adjusted his team’s practice schedule to attend, and pondered on how his career paralleled Bowden’s in so many ways. Fisher first met the Bowden family in 1984, when he and Bowden’s son Terry were teammates at Salem College before Fisher moved to Samford, where Bobby Bowden was a student.
Before becoming head coach, Fisher worked as the offensive coordinator at Florida State under Bobby Bowden.
Fisher described him as a “wonderful mentor.” “I’m very fortunate to be able to have that connection because of what he and his family meant to me in my career and the things I’ve been able to achieve, the things they taught me, and the exposure I had to doing things properly with the greatest guy in the history of the game who’s ever done it.”
When Fisher moved on to Texas A&M after the 2017 season, Bowden still kept up with his career. An avid newspaper reader, Bowden got a subscription to the Houston Chronicle so he could keep up.
Brooks recounted one of his fondest memories from his time at Florida State, recalling being summoned to Bowden’s office for the first time as a freshman. Brooks, like everyone else, had no clue what he’d done wrong. Brooks entered hesitantly, and Bowden expressed his disappointment that Brooks was not living up to his promise.
Brooks, taken aback by the remarks, inquired whether he was certain he had the correct guy. Bowden agreed. Then he went back to Brooks’ first semester grades. Bowden noted Brooks’ C in biology, adding that it was the first time in his life he had received a C. Brooks was startled to hear another voice on the speakerphone: his mother shouting profanities.
“Oh my God, Derrick, you better get it together,” he said as he hung up the phone, according to Brooks. “‘Dadgummit, I don’t want her to come down here and whup both your and my butts at the same time, so you’d better work this out.’
Brooks said why he adored Bowden: he was going to make sure he lived up to his full potential in every area of his life. Bowden told him two and a half weeks earlier when they talked, “I’m at peace, Derrick, whether God gives me 10 minutes or 10 years. But, more importantly, I want you to keep improving people’s lives in the neighborhood, and, goddammit, keep embracing your kids.”
Dunn said that Bowden’s football legacy “is unlike any other,” but also stated that three Florida State players — himself, Brooks, and Anquan Boldin — earned the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for their community work, a reflection of Bowden himself.
There was some football discussion thrown in for good measure. Ward, who assisted Bowden and Florida State to their first national championship in 1993, said the three P’s that Bowden instilled in him: preparation, persistence, and patience. He told a tale about overcoming adversity from his junior season, when he threw 17 interceptions, four of which came in a victory against Clemson.
“He helped me overcome adversity because he encouraged me when I was often tossing the football to the incorrect squad during my junior season,” Ward said. “Yes, he had reservations, but I’m glad he let me fail and then come back to redeem myself. He believed in me enough to keep pushing me ahead, but in that Clemson game, he reminded me that we were wearing white, not orange.”
Bowden’s children spoke out as well. Bowden’s daughter, Ginger, read a letter he sent on March 10, 1949, to his future wife, Ann, in which he professes his love for her. She talked on her parents’ 72-year marriage before a video montage of the two of them was shown as “Wind Beneath My Wings” was performed. A picture of Ann clutching Bobby Bowden’s hand during one of his last days rounded off the sequence.
Tommy and Terry Bowden, who began coaching as a result of their father’s influence, also spoke. Terry reiterated the lesson he just delivered to his ULM football team, which he received from his father: Football should be a priority, not THE priority.
Football was what enabled Bowden to have such an effect on people around him, which is why his family decided to open the celebration to the public. After a 34-year tenure with the Seminoles, the FSU Marching Chiefs poured into the stadium, performing the school hymn and the battle cry one final time for their mentor.
The Bobby Bowden remembered by former FSU football stars Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Charlie Ward is a story about the life of Bobby Bowden. He was an American college football coach and athletic director who served as head coach at Florida State University from 1976 to 2009. Reference: derrick brooks.
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