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Bowden: From FSU to FCA

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

AMERICUS -- The legendary Bobby Bowden showed up in Americus on Monday night.

Well, legendary doesn't really do Bowden justice.

The word simply isn't big enough, not deep enough or wide enough -- not down-home enough.

Not for Bowden, who knows a little bit about injustice these days.

Florida State football has lost its face, its heart -- and its very soul. That's why Bowden was in Southwest Georgia Monday night, speaking to a packed house for the benefit of The Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the Central Baptist Church in Americus, where the ageless coach spun his magic.

"This is what I do now,'' Bowden said in an exclusive interview with The Herald. "I've been speaking everywhere.''

Bowden has been busy, a lot busier than he ever dreamed he would be after retirement. He's in big demand as a public speaker, and has been on the go for six months, bouncing from one engagement to the next.

"I was in Indiana three days ago,'' he said. "I've been to Rio de Janeiro, New York, Billings, Montana, Hawaii, been everywhere. ... Most of it is FCA and churches, and I try to do it for as little as I can for churches. I also speak for (a variety of companies). I like it. I enjoy it.''

The only thing Bowden may be better at than coaching football is storytelling. And that may be the biggest story of all, because it's impossible to imagine anyone doing what Bowden did.

He left FSU in January after what is arguably the greatest coaching career in the history of college football.

And if there is any argument left, just think for a minute: Pick any obscure Division I football program in the nation and imagine that in a matter of years that program is not only playing for national titles, but winning them.

That's what Bowden did when he came to Florida State, a little-known college with a football team no one ever heard of stuck on the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle, just this side of oblivion.

By the time they shoved him out the door, Bowden had made FSU a household name in sports. That journey from unknown to the national promised land may never be made again by any small-time program, by any coach. More remarkably, FSU may never play for a national title again -- ever. That is a possibility.

But that's not what Bowden talked about Monday night.

No, Bowden was speaking as Bobby Bowden the Christian, holding the "dadgums" to a minimum while touching funny bones and hearts -- and possibly very souls -- with his own brand of humor and wit and insight.

There wasn't a bitter bone in his 80-year-old body -- just a message of hope and promise.

He had them laughing in the aisles one minute and hushed in silence the next, weaving his way from one-liners -- hysterical one-liners -- to grasping the message of Jesus Christ and delivering it with more punch and power than most Sunday morning preachers.

He quoted the scriptures without a Bible, but more importantly, Bowden took words written 4,000 years ago and made them sound as if they were written for today's nightly newscasts.

But what did you expect from Bowden?

No wonder he is in such demand as a speaker. Just like coaching, he does it his way and better than anyone else.

He's busy enough, and jokes about the best thing about getting away from football.

"The best thing about retirement? The good thing is you don't have to get up in the morning,'' Bowden said. "That's the biggest difference, every day is like Saturday.''

Even that is a joke, because Bowden hits the bed early every night -- "about 6:30,'' he said -- and is up before dawn.

"I get up at 4 (a.m.), but I don't have to. That's the difference. I don't have to,'' Bowden said. "Sometimes I sleep until 4:30.''

FSU and every other college football team is working out this week, getting ready for the season, the first Bowden-less season in Tallahassee since 1976.

Bowden won't have any trouble when the first Saturday rolls around.

"Do I miss coaching? No, I don't miss coaching,'' he said without a blink as if you had just asked him if he had missed having lunch today. "I don't miss it. I'm 80. If I was 50, I would miss coaching. But not at 80,'' he said.

It did hurt Bowden to have to leave. He left FSU as the second winningest coach in history with 377, behind Penn State's Joe Paterno (394), and Bowden is honest about wanting to go out on top.

"I tried to get one more year out of it, trying to beat Joe,'' Bowden said. "He's got a couple of more bowl wins than I do.

"One more year. ... You know, I was fighting Joe. It's the competitive thing. People say you're selfish, but I'm not being selfish. All I'm talking about is winning games, and that's what I'm supposed to be doing, isn't it?''

It does tug at his heart. There is so much to miss -- but for Bowden, it's all about relationships.

"The thing I miss is the camaraderie with the players,'' Bowden said. "I won't miss coaching, but I'll miss that. That's a special fraternity.''

Don't look for Bowden to show up at any FSU games, at least not for a while.

"I won't go for a year,'' Bowden said. "I'm going to spend half my time in Panama City. I won't be going to any games. I'll be watching them on TV and pulling for them, but I won't go to games.

"You know what that would be like. You don't want someone looking over your shoulder. Nobody wants that. And if I was there, people would be asking what would you have done (on that play)? I'll stay away for a year.''

He talked about being a public speaker, and said he has to do something to make a living.

"You know, I made $2 million last year and people say, Bobby you don't need to work,'' he said. "But I put all my money in real estate. And now you can't sell it, and if you do, you can't get anything for it. I'm what you call land poor.''

But rich in every other way, that's Bowden.

You could see it Monday in the church, and hear it in his voice, and feel it in his words. Bowden just knows how to touch people -- whether on a football field -- in a small group at dinner, or a packed auditorium or church.

He said he will keep speaking -- to large venues and to small towns, too -- because he enjoys it. He said when he speaks within 50 miles of Tallahassee, his wife always makes the trip with him.

"Ann does all the driving,'' he said. "I just sit there and hold the wheel.''

Bowden can still laugh, as loud or louder than anyone. He still has that Bowden magic, that Bowden touch. And even now, eight months removed from the program he built, dadgum it, Bobby Bowden is still going strong.