The first time I met Bobby Bowden was not in Tallahassee or in Clemson or at an ACC event or press conference.
Nope. It was at none of those places.
The first time I met the Hall of Fame head coach was in a small South Georgia town called Douglas. I was a young sportswriter then that was still wet behind the ears.
This is the first memory that popped in my head this morning when I learned the news that Coach Bowden passed away.
So, how did I come to meet Coach Bowden in Douglas, Georgia? A lot of you don’t know this, but this is the birthplace of Coach Bowden’s career as a Hall of Fame head coach.
Bowden coached at South Georgia College, now known as South Georgia State College, from 1956-’58, including an undefeated championship season in 1958. It was his first championship team.
Every two years, Bowden and his old players got together in South Georgia to reminisce about the undefeated season.
I had the pleasure to cover this event one year, and that is when I first saw how real and genuine Coach Bowden really was. He took the time to sit down and talk to me for more than an hour and then allowed me to hang around and take in the reunion with his former players.
As you can imagine, it was quite an experience for me that left an impression. A few years later, I met Coach Bowden again at an FCA event in Tifton, Georgia. Coach Bowden, as always, was as sharp as a tack. He remembered me and sat down and spoke to me for about an hour. He was throwing out his famous zingers and one-liners that made him so approachable and genuine.
When I started covering Clemson, I got the opportunity to speak to Coach Bowden a lot. He always remembered who I was and genuinely asked how I was doing.
When his son Tommy Bowden was coaching at Clemson, the ACC always had them talk to the writers during their breakout sessions at the same time. They always put on a show, taking friendly jabs at one another from across the room.
Tommy would walk in and would yell to his dad, who was already talking to the writers, “Hey old man! When did you make it up from your nap?”
Bobby would just laugh and say, “I got up early because I knew you would show up late.”
It was always good-old-fashion humor that made for great stories. I got the pleasure to cover five of the Bowden Bowl matchups in the later years, as Tommy won four of those five meetings over his dad.
It was great to observe how close they were and how much respect and love they had for each other. You could tell their relationship was more than just father and son. They were best friends. Tommy is a lot like his dad in so many ways.
This morning we all lost Bobby Bowden, as he went home to be with our Lord and Savior. He finally lost to an opponent he could not beat – pancreatic cancer.
On July 21, Coach Bowden, through Florida State, announced the news he was diagnosed with a terminal medical condition. And though he was staring death right in the face, Coach Bowden was as stern, strong, and genuine to us as he always was.
“I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” Bowden said in the release. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”
And so are we Coach. For you shared some of the best moments of your life with all of us, including going out of your way to make a young sportswriter feel welcomed and a part of something special when you did not have to.
You gave me a memory I will never forget, and for that, I will never forget you. Rest In Peace, Coach.