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FSU football legend Bobby Bowden has died

Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 6:55 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Bobby Bowden died Sunday morning after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to FSU. He was 91.

Bobby’s son, Terry, confirmed to The Associated Press that his father died at home in Tallahassee, surrounded by family early Sunday morning.

“It was truly peaceful,” Terry Bowden said in a text message to the AP.

Bobby Bowden announced on July 21 he had a terminal illness that Terry Bowden later said was pancreatic cancer. Bobby Bowden had been treated for prostate cancer more than a decade ago.

“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, a devout Christian, said at the time. “My wife, Ann, and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”

Bowden’s lifelong love affair with football began long before stalking the sideline.

Spending almost a year bedridden with rheumatic fever at the age of 13, Bowden spent his Saturday mornings next to the radio, listening to the exploits of Frank Thomas’ Alabama Crimson Tide.

Later in life, Bowden enrolled at Alabama to play quarterback before returning to his native Birmingham to marry his sweetheart, Ann.

Still, Bowden remained a collegiate athlete, transferring to Howard College, which still stands today as Samford University.

It was his time at Howard that launched Bowden’s high-level coaching career, after a brief stay at South Georgia College.

After a three-year, 31-6 record leading his alma mater, an opportunity in Tallahassee became too good to pass up, when Florida State head coach Bill Peterson offered Bowden an assistant coach position.

Known for his offensive innovation, Peterson assembled a staff that included Bowden, Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs, just to name a few.

But in 1965, after three seasons, Bowden got his shot to lead a big-time program: The West Virginia Mountaineers.

Bowden’s time in Morgantown was marked with a 42-26 record, but fate once again led Bowden to Tallahassee.

FSU was no longer the innovative upstart Bowden had left in ‘65. A half-decade removed from its rise under Peterson, the Seminoles had fallen on hard times, firing two head coaches and compiling a 19-37 record.

Not only was Bowden tagged as the last, best hope to bring Seminole football back to life, but the mountain of success also seemed like an impossible climb.

Then a football independent, FSU had scheduled one-way trips to many of the game’s greatest powers, including Ohio State, Nebraska and Pittsburgh.

But Bowden’s sure spirit, offensive innovation and highly skilled staff proved ready for the near-unthinkable: After a 5-6 year in 1976, the Seminoles would never have another losing campaign under their eighth head coach.

Their conquests in visiting stadiums would earn the attention of college football’s elite, and give them the nickname “the Road Warriors,” a testament to the Noles’ “anyone, anytime, anywhere” mentality.

FSU continued to gain steam throughout the 1980s as Bowden, ever a communicator, won the hearts and minds of recruits and their families, convincing more and more talented youngsters to give the fledgling program in Tallahassee a go.

In his 34 years on the sidelines of Doak Campbell Stadium, Bowden coached 23 consensus All-Americans, including Ron Simmons, Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks and Peter Warrick.

Though the Seminoles gained national acclaim, they were still part of a fierce three-horse race in the Sunshine State, as the Miami Hurricanes’ rise in the 1980s and Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators of the 1990s would prove perfect foils to Bowden’s Tribe, providing both moments of ultimate triumph and utter agony.

As Howard Schellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson brought home four titles for the Hurricanes throughout the 80s and 90s, the pressure mounted on Bowden and his Seminoles to claim the ultimate prize.

After years of close calls and misfires, Bowden got his team. Led by Thomas County Central star, and eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward, superstar tailback Warrick Dunn and a cast of supporting stars too lengthy to mention, Bowden’s Seminoles defeated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1994, claiming the 1993 national championship, surrendering only one loss on the season to then-second ranked Notre Dame in South Bend.

It was the first crowning achievement in what is considered one of the greatest dynasties in college football history. From 1986-2000, FSU finished every season in the top four of the Associated Press Top 25 rankings and, after joining the ACC in 1992, lost just twice in conference games throughout the 1990s.

But perhaps Bowden’s crowning achievement came at the end of the millennium, as his 1999 squad became the first wire-to-wire champion in the history of the sport, starting the season ranked number one and staying atop the polls until claiming its first title of the BCS era, defeating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl behind the arm of Chris Weinkie, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy a season later.

The 2000s were not as kind to the Bowden dynasty, with the loss of key assistants such as future University of Georgia and Miami head coach Mark Richt and the changing nature of the game.

The Seminoles still captured four conference titles in the aughts, but the Noles’ decline was clear.

From 2006-2009, FSU had three .500 regular seasons, and the calls for change were made.

Bowden retired after the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day 2010, where his fighting Tribe sprang one final upset for its beloved leader, coming from behind and shocking Bowden’s old squad, the #17 West Virginia Mountaineers, 33-21 in Jacksonville.

Following the game, Bowden was carried off the field by his players and forever into the hearts of the Seminole faithful.

Bowden’s three-plus decades in Tallahassee did more than lift the profile of a struggling football team. They were a catalyst of growth for Florida State University as a whole, with the national exposure building FSU into the large public institution it is today.

It provided an economic boon for a city that now welcomes tens of thousands of visitors any given Saturday in the fall.

Bowden lived a life full of football and family, with his sons Tommy, Terry and Jeff all coaching FBS football at some point in their careers.

But for as large a role as those two played in his life, faith was just as large of a presence.

A devout Christian, Bowden used his platform as a chance to share his faith, vocal about his beliefs and no stranger to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

According to Bowden, his relationship with God was his first priority in life.

Bobby Bowden walked this Earth for 91 years and coached the game of football for more than 40. Faith, family and football were more than a saying, they were the foundation of a life that touched and changed so many.

The bedrock of a legacy that changed Tallahassee, the state of Florida and the game of football forever.

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