End of an Era

On Tuesday, Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden is expected to announce his retirement from coaching, according to ESPN. 

If you live outside of Florida, you may not give a rat’s petoot about this.  If you are a football fan, it must sadden you, at least a little bit. 

Bobby Bowden has been coaching for a long time, longer than I’ve been alive.  He has won two national championships at Florida State, won over 300 games, and has sent a boatload of players on to the NFL.  These names include Deion Sanders and Warrick Dunn, both players I remember watch playing at FSU.  Bowden is a winner. 

When I was in the Navy, I noted on my calendar the date of the Florida/Florida State game.  Now that I’m a Gator Hater, these games have even more significance to me.  These games were Spurrier and Bowden dueling out a chess match with the best athletes in the nation, sometimes shootouts where the defenses were only on the field to give the offenses a rest, sometimes physical battles that resembled caveman wars more closely than a sporting event.  I have always been a watcher of football.  But watching Bowden’s teams turned me into a fan. 

I actually got to see an FSU game live when I was stationed in Orlando.  FSU played (then) Memphis State University at the old Citrus Bowl stadium.  Bowden’s team put a beat down on the Tigers that day, 35-13, if I recall correctly.  MSU played the Seminoles in the late ’80’s several times, almost always getting spanked by Bowden’s superior atheletes.  One exception was a defensive battle that resulted in a 9-7 final score.  Without scoring a touchdown, the ‘Noles beat the Tigers again. 

You’d think I would be bitter over this and happy to see Bowden go.  I am happy that he’s retiring, mainly because the Seminoles have been in decline over the past few years and it’s sad to see a coach or player hang on too long.  Bowden is too big a guy for that, and I think it’s time for him to step down.  He is 80 years old, after all.  Maybe now the Seminoles can get some of the players Urban Meyer has gotten in the past few years.  No hot-shot high school senior wants to play for a team that is sinking. 

I don’t know a lot about Bobby personally.  I only know that his teams used to be a terror on Saturdays, and he won a crap load of games.  His teams have been put on probation, had wins taken away, and suffered through some poor performances recently.  Bobby is a winner.  He wins football games.  If he has cheated to do so, certainly his program has been punished for that, but it points to the weight and importance we place on sporting events in the US. 

In the film “We are Marshall,”  there is a scene where Marshall’s coach Jack Lengyel is talking to an assistant and says that “winning is the only thing that matters.”  (Bowden was the coach at West Virginia when the Marshall tragedy happened and shared his playbook with Lengyel.)  We as fans place pressure on the coaches and players that most of us cannot understand, even if we played sports.  The need to win is almost like a hunger that has to be satisfied NOW, and rebuilding a team must happen immediately.  Losing seasons mean you are unemployed. (Ask Charlie Weis about this one.  He was fired as Notre Dame’s coach today.) 

I’m not making excuses for Bowden.  But his willingness to help the Marshall program says more to me about the man than recruiting violations or using ineligible players.  He saw a team and a town that was suffering, and did a small thing to him that was huge for that program.  Marshall has recovered pretty well and sent several players to the NFL themselves, including Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and others.  (Marshall beat the Tigers this year, too.)  Bobby wants to win, but he also cares about people.  Ask his players.  They will tell you how they feel about him.

I wish Bobby luck in retirement.  Part of my life as a young man was affected by Bobby Bowden, if only as a fan.  I learned how to win football games, too.

Four yards at a time.


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