TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – One state leader called him “a Florida and national treasure” as mourners gathered this weekend to honor the life and legacy of legendary Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden, who died last weekend after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Hundreds of fans lined up hours early Saturday for a celebration of life for Bowden at the Tucker Civic Center at FSU.
The doors weren’t scheduled to open until 9:30 a.m., but the first woman was in line before 7 a.m. Many brought chairs for the long wait as they swapped stories about Bowden.
“I was a walk-on, and he mentored me. He was always easy to approach, and he made everyone around him feel good and enthusiastic,” said Keith Southwood, a former FSU player who made the trip to Tallahassee from Jacksonville for the memorial service Saturday.
Chris McKinnon and his mom, Pat, came because Chris spent eight years attending Bobby Bowden’s youth football camps.
“I couldn’t wait to go to it every summer. I was so excited,” Chris McKinnon said.
Inside they were treated to years of highlight films, including a pep talk before a big game.
“If they don’t score, we win, and we do want to win, right?” Bowden was seen telling players.
The estimated 1,200 in attendance listened to players like Charlie Ward, Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn share stories of just what coach Bowden meant to them and how they grew to be men under his mentorship.
“He stood up for me in the most difficult time in my life. I am forever grateful for that, and I wouldn’t be here today without Coach,” Dunn told the audience, concluding with a classic Bowden line…”dadgummit.”
Brooks spoke in place of Deion Sanders, who will attend the private family service in Alabama on Sunday instead.
Brooks shared a personal story tinged with quintessential Bowden heart -- and humor. He said that while studying and playing football as a freshman at FSU, he was called into Bowden’s office after he earned the first C grade of his life, in Biology.
Bowden, who already had Brooks’ mother on speakerphone, told him he was disappointed that he wasn’t living up to his potential and that he wasn’t going to stand for it. Brooks said he was confused at first about what he’d done wrong -- until Bowden showed him the transcript with the C grade.
When Bowden mentioned the grade, Brooks’ mother went into an explicit tirade, telling her son to get his act together -- or else. Bowden, who was known to have a low tolerance for foul language, quickly ended the conversation and then turned to Brooks.
“He said, ‘Oh my God, Derrick, you better get it together. Dadgummit, I don’t want her coming down here to whoop your butt and mine at the same time. So you better figure this out,’” Brooks recalled, eliciting a laugh from the crowd.
Mickey Andrews, who spent 20 years as an assistant for Bowden, said he learned to be tough.
“He stood for doing your best. And he was going to hold you accountable to it,” Andrews said.
Other speakers included former coach Mark Richt, who got his start under Bowden, and three of Bowden’s children.
The program included a letter to Bowden’s children in 2004, telling them he was going to heaven...and he would consider his life a failure if they weren’t eventually there, too. The letter was written a week after Bowden’s daughter Ginger lost her son and husband in a car crash.
She chose to read from a 1949 love letter Bowden sent his wife, Ann.
“Dearest Ann, I will see you later. Forever yours, Bobby Bowden,” read the daughter to her mother.
In a message to Floridians, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said the 91-year-old Bowden “leaves behind a legacy that transcends sports.”
“There will never be another like him,” Patronis said.
Coach Bobby Bowden was a kind soul with a warrior's heart. RIP Coach. pic.twitter.com/MyIHVwOAAN— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) August 13, 2021
Bowden’s football career included 377 victories, two national titles and a dozen ACC championship wins with FSU.
Following Saturday’s service, Bowden’s final resting place is in Alabama. On Sunday evening, he will lie in repose at Reid Chapel at Samford University.
He will then be buried in a private service in Trussville, Alabama.