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Legendary coach Bowden to be honored at FSU game

Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ask Bobby and Ann Bowden the cliched question, “How’s retired life?”

Go ahead. You’ll get exhausted just listening to them for the next few minutes.

There have been trips to foreign lands and Akron, Ohio. Bobby plays golf frequently with old friends, and Ann stays busy visiting children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Last week, Bowden went to Auburn, Ala., to tape a commercial with fellow retirees Gene Stallings and Pat Dye, hopped over to Valdosta, Ga., to speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes function, then took his wife to Ohio to watch Akron, coached by their son, Terry, beat Miami of Ohio for only his second victory of the season.

Beginning next year, Bowden will go on a series of fundraising appearances for Seminole Boosters, adding to an already crowded speaking schedule.

“We don’t really know what retired life is,” said Ann Bowden. “We’re too busy to think of ourselves as retired.”

“I’d rather stay busy,” her husband said. “I don’t care to do nothing.”

The only thing they haven’t done is return to Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium and Bobby Bowden Field for a Florida State football game.

That changes Saturday when the architect of the Seminoles’ football legacy breaks a self-imposed absence of nearly four years to watch third-ranked FSU (6-0, 4-0 ACC) meet North Carolina State (3-3, 0-3) at 3:30 p.m.

When Bowden was forced out as Seminoles coach in 2009 after 34 years, 316 victories, 12 ACC titles and two national championships, he never wanted to give the impression of looking over the shoulder of his hand-picked successor, Jimbo Fisher.

So Bowden stayed away, even drawing the line at attending games.

But with the Seminoles winning their first ACC title since 2005 last season, and FSU having only five players remaining from Bowden’s last recruiting class, the time was right.

“I’ve just watched the games [on TV] and kept quiet about it,” Bowden said. “As far as my emotions that day … well, I don’t what they’ll be. I’m still looking forward to it.”

Bowden, who will be 84 on Nov. 8, has watched plenty of football, whether on TV or live streaming of Akron games, when he and his wife can’t get there.

Predictably, Bowden is a big Jameis Winston fan, because he sees similarities between the FSU freshman and a special quarterback he coached, Heisman winner Charlie Ward.

“They get the same results, and it seems as if [Winston’s] teammates believe in him the same way our kids believed in Charlie,” Bowden said. “They’re a little different. Charlie was a more elusive runner, but I’ve never seen a freshman with an arm like Jameis. He’s as natural as I’ve seen. And they’re both alike in that they have real fine families who put God first.”

Bowden said days of channel-surfing college games have been more fun than he thought.

“When you’re coaching, all you watch is yourself,” he said. “And it’s only fun when you win. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Fisher said Bowden’s coaching career and resurrecting FSU football from the brink of being dropped as a sport is “what’s right about the world.”

“He made Florida State … He was Florida State,” Fisher said. “That’s why we have this stadium, the facilities. … That’s why we have everything.”

Fisher said Bowden’s decision to keep his distance from the football program was one more example of his character.

“It’s just who he is,” Fisher said.

Ed Burr, a Jacksonville developer and member of the FSU Board of Trustees, said the timing of Bowden’s homecoming couldn’t have been any better.

“He’s returning at a time when Jimbo has the program back on a national stage,” said Burr, a 1979 FSU graduate. “Bobby got us there in the first place, and he stayed back while Jimbo established his own program. It’s an exciting time for Seminoles, and we’re looking forward to celebrating that with Bobby.”

Florida State is going all-out to honor Bowden — and reap media attention and financial benefits.

There’s “The Legend Returns” golf tournament with Bowden on Friday and an appearance with former players at the Donald L. Tucker Center later that night billed “An Evening with Bobby and Friends.” General admission to the latter function is $30 per person.

The school also has put numerous items commemorating the weekend on sale — including 14 styles of T-shirts.

The proceeds will go to the school and Seminole Boosters.

Bowden will be honored in a pregame ceremony and will do the honors of planting the spear at midfield, just as he did in the 2010 Gator Bowl, his final game as Seminoles coach.

FSU expects around 400 former players for Bowden to attend the game.

“They’ve got a lot planned for me,” Bowden said with a laugh. “I can’t remember it all. I’m just going to go where they tell me.”

When Bowden plants the spear, it will bring back a special memory for senior center Bryan Stork, who watched Bowden do the same at the Gator Bowl Jan. 1, 2010.

“It brought tears to my eyes because I knew it would be the last time he would ever coach Florida State,” said Stork, one of the five redshirt seniors on this year’s team recruited by Bowden. “It was really neat to see. He’s a legend. I came here to play for coach Bowden first. He’s a legend, and I wanted to play for a legend, and I was lucky enough to be on the team for a year.”

Defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, another Bowden recruit, said the home recruiting visit from the coach was perhaps his favorite memory.

“He told me I was the first recruit of my class that he was to visit … and I started thinking, ‘Wow. I didn’t think I was that type of player or that special,’ ” McDaniel said. “It was just a blessing. He coached me for one season, but that one season was a memorable season.”

And while Fisher has work to do Saturday, he will be a fan for a few minutes during the pregame ceremony, along with an expected sellout crowd of more than 80,000.

“I’m extremely excited because he was my hero, too,” Fisher said. “He’s class. That’s why there is one Bobby Bowden.”