Dec. 20, 1997
Florida State, Bobby Bowden, bowl games and success – the four have become synomous. And for the Seminoles, a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl has become close to automatic as Bowden will take FSU to the Nokia Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years.
The recent visits to the Crescent City, along with trips to the Orange and Fiesta Bowls, point to one thing and that is the remarkable success of Bobby Bowden and his Florida State program.
No team in college football history has accomplished what Bowden’s Seminoles have. Consider the fact that the Seminoles have won 10 games for an NCAA record 11 consecutive seasons. The Tribe will also try and extend their college football record of 10 straight seasons finishing among the Associated Press’ Top Four. And no team has been more successful than Bowden’s in the bowls where the ‘Noles are 11-1 over the last 12 years, including a historic 11 straight wins.
The Seminoles’ have the winningest college football program in the 1990s and appear determined to make sure that the streak is extended in the 1997 bowl game.
Bobby Bowden is a man so closely tied with the phenomenal success of his program that he, as much as Renegade and the war chant, is Florida State football. Gracious in both victory and defeat, Bowden is a man at peace with himself, a man with rock-solid character and firm coaching principles that date back more than 38 years. It’s not enough that his coaching numbers have reached legendary proportions. Bowden also gives Florida State University a proud moral leader, a family man of the first order, a caring disciplinarian, and a calming voice in the face of the turbulence surrounding college football.
Perhaps the best tribute to the man is that he is not afraid to change with the times – adapting brilliantly to new ways of winning games, as well as dealing with young student-athletes. From a sense of discipline and control, to a bold switch to the Fast Break offense, Bowden proves you’re only as old as you feel.
Like other coaches before him, Bowden has created something of a monster that sits squarely on his shoulders. He has coached his Florida State teams so very close to perfection that the fans expect the moon. He has won 116 games over the last 11 seasons, including monumental wins over Miami, Notre Dame, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, North Carolina, Florida and others.
In the fickle world of “big-time” college sports, some forget what it is all about. Sure, Bobby Bowden is proud of his national championship, his place among the all-time greats, and a chance at a second national title. But as Bowden well understands at this stage of his career, there are things more important in life. That’s what makes him “our” Bobby Bowden.
He has time for charity and to give to his church. He has never walked past an admiring child without a wink and a smile. He greets total strangers as best friends. He listens and he cares. He is a father figure in the traditional sense.
One of Bowden’s greatest coaching achievements revolves around bowl games and his team’s success in them. Bowden’s 15-4-1 record and .775 bowl win-ning percentage rank first all-time. Only Joe Paterno (17) has won more bowl games.
The list of coaches who have won more games than Bowden got even shorter in 1993. Only four names remain ahead of his on the all-time Division 1-A coaching list – Bryant, Stagg, Warner, Paterno. Indeed, Florida State’s eighth head coach has inked his name on the list of legends over 32 seasons at Samford, West Virginia and FSU.
When Bowden first arrived in Tallahassee in 1976, he described his relationship with the school as “a marriage” and was determined to let “no man put it asunder”. True to his word, he completes his 22nd season at FSU this year.
What Bobby Bowden means to Florida State University off the playing field cannot be measured. Respect, sincerity, class, honesty, charisma, charm and humor. Those are the words that describe and define this man – not wins, losses, or coaching records.
As if his character isn’t enough, his coaching style draws admirers nationwide. A wide-open, gambling style makes Bowden teams a treat to watch, a pleasure to play on and a delight to cover. Reverses, flea-flickers, laterals – you name it, here it comes.
A look at the record shows he’s done it both ways. The flashy wins may get all the attention, but for every one of those, there are dozens of others spawned from sound fundamental football.
By now it’s been well-chronicled how the Birmingham native left the snow and ice of West Virginia to come to Florida State and save the program. Three seasons after he walked on campus, he had taken one of the worst football teams in the country to within one game of a national championship.
Bowden’s record at Florida State is 206-50-4. That includes a 109-15-2 record in Tallahassee and a 94-35-2 mark away from home. He has built those numbers against some of the nation’s toughest schedules, earning respect for his team, attracting top players to his program and establishing his reputation as a competitor in the process.
Bowden achieved impressive numbers in his previous coaching stops (31-6 at Samford University in Birmingham between 1959 and 1962, and 42-26 at West Virginia from 1970-75), but what he has done at FSU is simply phenomenal. 14 times in 22 years, his Seminoles have won 10 or more games in a season. Florida State had been to just eight bowls in the 29 years before him. This year, the Seminoles play their 19th bowl game since his arrival, including a string of 16 in a row and 12 New Year’s Day trips. He is, by far, the winningest coach ever at Florida State as his win total is greater than the previous seven Seminole head coaches combined.
Over his 22-year career at Florida State, Bowden has made the Seminoles a mainstay in the Associated Press polls. FSU has been ranked in the Top 25 in each of the last 143 polls dating back to the second week of the 1989 season. The Seminoles have been among the nation’s Top 25 for 176 of the last 178 polls, and among the Top 10 for 59 consecutive polls. Florida State has been in the AP Top five for 36 straight weeks and has spent 40 weeks at No. 1 since 1991.
Florida State is the only school to finish among the Associated Press Top Four for 10 consecutive seasons. The Seminoles have finished 1st once (1993), 2nd twice (1987, 92), 3rd twice (1988, 89), and 4th five times (1990, 91, 94, 95, 96).
No team in college football history can match the run.
Over the past five years, the coach and his teams have adjusted to life as a conference member with Florida State’s addition to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Over six seasons, FSU is 47-1 and has claimed six ACC championships and set the league record for consecutive victories. Bowden picked up his only ACC Coach of the Year title in 1993 and 1997.
Above all, Bowden’s coaching accomplishments, though, are his credentials as a man. Friendly and outgoing, he is a devoted Christian and family man. He loves people. His personality and charm are bigger than life. He has become somewhat of a folk hero in the south. A polished speaker, Bowden is constantly in demand. His busy coaching schedule curtails many speaking engagements, but any free evening will find him on the speaking circuit. His off-season travel schedule would exhaust anyone. Every free Sunday morning will find him in the pulpit of a church somewhere in the south.
Outside of football, Bowden has an intense interest in World War II history and reads countless books and articles on the subject. He traced his ancestry to parts of Germany and has visited the country several times.
Bowden was an outstanding football player at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Ala., and went on to Alabama as a freshman quarterback, fulfilling a lifelong dream to play for the Crimson Tide. During one semester in Tuscaloosa, he found his childhood sweetheart, Ann Estock, and she was enough to lure him back to Birmingham. He soon married Ann and transferred to Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham.
But Bobby Bowden is not the only head coach in the family. His son Terry is the head coach at Auburn, and Tommy is the head coach at Tulane.
And they aren’t the only successful members of the family. His oldest son, Steve, is now in private business in Birmingham and youngest son, Jeff, is in his fourth season on the FSU staff. The four boys, daughters Robyn Hines and Ginger Madden, and their families make up the Bowden clan. And as dependable as an FSU bowl win has been lately, have been the playful sounds of 21 Bowden grandchildren in the team hotel.