Florida State Football Coach Bowden Says Farewell
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Bobby Bowden, long-time head football coach at Florida State University, winner of 12 Atlantic Coast Conference titles and two national titles, has announced his retirement. Essayist and lifelong fan Diane Roberts says it isn't quite the valedictory people wanted.
Ms. DIANE ROBERTS (Essayist): In the end it wasn't pretty. The 80-year-old man accustomed to hearing himself called brilliant, possibly the greatest college coach in the history of the game, a legend even, was forced to confront reality. His team had had yet another undistinguished season. Fans, boosters and alumni whispered it at first, then said it louder and louder, maybe he just doesn't have it anymore, maybe it's time for him to go.
Last weekend after the Seminoles lost big to their old archrival, the University of Florida, he said he needed to do some soul searching. Whatever he found there led him to believe that it was time to leave the game that had been his passion, his life for more than 50 years. Lately, he had become detached, sometimes even petulant.
There is something Shakespearean in Bobby Bowden's fall from football grace. Something reminiscent of Richard III's denial that the war was lost or perhaps King Lear's refusal to see that his pride endangered the whole kingdom. The line between self-confidence and hubris is spider silk thin.
The university named the football field after him. They erected a bronze statue of him. At the north end zone of the stadium there's a stained glass window of him three stories high. Bobby Bowden - Saint Bobby we used to call him - is right up there with Jesus around here.
When Bobby Bowden came to FSU, the team was lousy, to put it charitably. He ignited the Seminoles, turning them into national stars, playing the big boys of Nebraska, Notre Dame and Michigan on the road, inventing weird and ingenious plays such as the Fumblerooski and the Puntrooskie.
Like his fellow Alabamian, Bear Bryant, he had excellent football manners -gracious in victory and gracious in defeat. He was a masterpiece of charm and cunning, a virtuoso of that old Southern trick where you make like you ain't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, suckering your opponent, then go in for the kill.
His players loved him. He produced two Heisman trophy winners, many Biletnikoff and Thorpe Award winners, armies of all-Americans, squads of pro players, a Rhodes scholar and countless regular guys. He was a teacher. This is the Bobby Bowden we want to remember.
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HANSEN: Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee.