Legendary head coach Bobby Bowden passed away at the age of 91. He set the standard for college football coaches.
1987 Miami – Florida State was about as perfect as a college football game gets.
Two elite teams loaded with NFL talent, big plays, giant mood and momentum swings, and the fierceness and intensity you’d expect in a rivalry like that all under the sunshine on a Saturday afternoon. It was everything the sport is supposed to be at the highest level.
I always loved college football as a kid, but that game – along with the 1984 Miami win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl – made me a college football junkie for life.
And it made me a Florida State and Bobby Bowden fan.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Florida State seemed like it was on another planet.
Deion Sanders was my favorite college player, the Seminoles were exciting and fun, and their coach had the exact drawl and all the mannerisms that came across as just right for the sport. But the crazy part about Florida State in the 1980s – remember, you only got a few national games a week – was that the few times it was on with something massive on the line, it seemed like it lost.
As a little kid, I got to stay up to watch an 11-0 FSU play the 1980 Orange Bowl – and lose to Oklahoma.
I got to stay up to watch FSU play the 1981 Orange Bowl – and lose to Oklahoma.
In early October of 1987, the Seminoles were seemingly down and out after a Steve Walsh to Michael Irvin 73-yard touchdown connection – still my favorite college football pitch-and-catch of all-time – but they bounced back.
They got a few nice breaks on the way to a late touchdown, putting themselves in a position to get out of the epic showdown with a tie to stay on track to play for the national title. Bowden said he wanted to kick the extra point after a TD made it 26-25 Miami, but his players wanted to go for two.
They went for two, the try failed, and FSU lost.
Florida State won a whole lot of big college football games under Bowden, but the losses made the monster powerhouse a program to root for.
It was the way he lost that made you want to see Bobby Bowden win.
Bobby Bowden passed away the age of 91.
Today we lost a legend but you never lose a legacy. Rest In Peace Coach Bowden pic.twitter.com/f7pQpUPqbJ
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) August 8, 2021
The first time I interviewed Bowden was after he retired. It was on Skype from his house, and like anyone who Skypes from their house, there were noises.
His house phone kept ringing, the doorbell rang once, and his wife’s soap opera was on way too loud. When Bowden asked her to turn it down, she did, but each time it went back up to blaring again a few moments later.
After the interview was over, Bowden said, “Son, I do apologize for all the dadgum noise.” We then chatted about the world for another 20 minutes. After it was over, I turned to my co-host – “did Bobby Bowden really just call me Son and say dadgum?”
That was it. That was the highlight. When you’re a little kid growing up as a fan of a team or a sports figure, that’s the dream moment. But that was how Bobby Bowden was with everyone.
I talked to him a few times after that and he was always the same. Gracious, funny, nice, and all of the things you’re going to read about over the next several days and through what’s sure to be a Florida State season played in his honor.
No, I didn’t agree with his politics, and I sure didn’t agree with him bringing his religion into a public university the way he did, but he was sincere, never a phony, and always decent no matter who you were.
In a profession and a sport lacking all of those things, Bobby Bowden was different.
From 1987 to 2000, Florida State won ten games or more every year. Had there been a College Football Playoff, the program would’ve made it in 12 out of 14 seasons.
The exceptions were 1989 and 1995, and 1989 would’ve been really, really close after going on a run following an 0-2 start. Of course Alabama is setting a new standard of college football excellence under Nick Saban, but for a whole generation of the sport, Florida State under Bobby Bowden was the model of consistency.
He handled his wins with humility and class, he handled his losses with humility and class, and he did it all while allowing his teams to be brash, bold, and fun.
Bobby Bowden was how this college football coaching thing was supposed to be done.