On August 8, the world lost Robert “Bobby” Cleckler Bowden, one of the most respected and talented coaches in college football history. Since his passing, the football faithful across the country have paid their respects to the player, coach and legend whose humble beginnings belong to Howard College.
Bowden, born in Birmingham in 1929, played and coached at Samford University, which was then known as Howard College. Bowden, however, did not start at Howard his freshman year. He transferred to the college after losing his scholarship to the University of Alabama as a bittersweet result of marrying Julia Ann Estock, his high school sweetheart and wife of 72 years. His transfer back to his hometown was only the dawn of his successful career.
After three losing seasons as a backup, Bowen became starting quarterback his senior year and went on to lead his team to a 5-4 record. He was also named a Little All-American, a title given to only the best players in the whole country at small colleges.
After graduating in 1953, Bowden stayed with the Howard Bulldogs for two seasons as an assistant coach. In 1955, he went on to coach at South Georgia College for four seasons, where he won three championships and was selected the Junior College Coach of the Year in 1955 and 1957. During that time, he also wore the hats of the athletic director, basketball coach and baseball coach.
His return to his alma mater in 1959 came at just the right time as he revived a crumbling program. Bowden led his team to a 9-1 season, six of which were shut-out wins. After bringing the Bulldogs’ program back to life and going 31-6 in only four seasons, he was hired by Florida State as a wide receivers coach. After a nine-year stint as offensive coordinator and head coach at West Virginia, he was hired as the head coach of Florida State in 1976.
Most college football fans remember Bowden for the next 34 years of his life as the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles. Of those 34 seasons, only one was not a winning season, which was his first year in 1976. During his time with the Seminoles, Bowden won two National Championships and won 304 games. In total, he won 389 Division-I FBS games, the second highest number of wins in FBS history. Bowden also won the 1980 Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award and the 1991 Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award while at Florida State.
With so many amazing collegiate football accolades, the 2006 College Football Hall of Fame inductee never let football become the main thing in his life. He made his outlook on balancing his life and football very clear to the public.
“Faith is the most important thing in the world to me. It’s the greatest strength I’ve had. It’s helped me get through the hard times,” Bowden said in his book, “The Wisdom of Faith.” “You’re not going to win every one of your football games. I’ve always said I’m not going to make football my God. A lot of coaches put so much into coaching football games that they have nothing left.”
After retiring from the game in 2009, Bowden went on to make his mark as a Christian speaker, inspiring players and believers years after his days coaching on the field. Samford senior football player Will Hudson relishes in the wisdom he learned from Bowden.
“His faith came before anything,” Hudson said. “He never let football get in the way of that. He cared deeply about his players and their well-being and always put others before himself.”
In addition to the Bobby Bowden statue outside of the stadium which was dedicated in 2013, Samford Athletics is honoring the legacy of Bobby Bowden by placing stickers on the helmet of every football player.
“It’s special to play at the same school he played at and started coaching at,” Peter Renkoski, a Samford football player, said. “It’s an honor to have a sticker of him on our helmet and see his statue in front of our stadium.”
Last Wednesday, Samford Athletics announced that the football field will be renamed to Bobby Bowden Field. A dedication ceremony will occur prior to Saturday’s game against ETSU at 2 p.m. A banner below the press boxes that once read “This is Bulldog Country” will now read “Bobby Bowden Field.”