’He is Florida State football’: Tributes pour in at Bowden statue

Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 10:39 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2021 at 8:33 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Bobby Bowden statue outside Doak Campbell stadium is quickly becoming an impromptu memorial site, just hours after the news of his death at age 91.

A steady stream of FSU fans began visiting Sunday morning, some bringing flowers to place at the foot of the statue.

“We’re here to pay our respects to Coach Bowden,” said James Savino of Orlando.

The FSU alum and his son Nate are in Tallahassee for a baseball camp, and they came to the statue bearing flowers after learning of Bowden’s passing.

“He was, is, a legend,” Savino said, “And while I was at school here in 88 through 92, he was just warm. It was the most amazing memories for myself and everyone here.”

“This man, he is Tallahassee, and he is Florida State football,” Savino said.

The nine foot tall bronze statue was unveiled in September 2004, 28 years into Bowden’s legendary career as head coach of the Seminoles and six years prior to his retirement.

Although the Savinos were some of the first to arrive at the statue, they were far from the only ones paying their respects.

FSU alum Shawn Stewart also went by the bronze sculpture. He was in town from Orlando, moving his daughter in at FSU.

He attended FSU from 1991 to 1995, saying Coach Bowden made it the place to be. Stewart says fall football felt like the “center of the universe” in Tallahassee.

His first interaction with Bowden came through a phone call as a child, when his parents met the coach at an Orlando Touchdown Club.

“At 7 years old I got my first call from Coach Bowden and spoke to him for probably 15 minutes on the phone, you know, make sure you keep your grades up, doing all the things that you would expect,” said Stewart.

Stewart also met Bowden in person 10 years ago when the coach spoke at his church; he had one-on-one time with Bowden when he picked him up from the airport.

“He made you feel like you were old friends every time you talked to him. And everyone says it, but it really is true. As soon as you sat down and started talking to him, you felt like you were in the room with your grandfather, and he was going to tell the stories, and everyone was going to kinda close their mouths and listen. He was such a great man, had so much wisdom and so many great stories,” said Stewart.

Debbie Kilichowski was another FSU alum who happened to be in town at the time of Bowden’s passing.

She says he set a standard.

“He set a bar. And it’s a bar that I think previous Seminoles and future Seminoles will always try to achieve,” says Kilichowski.

She too has memories of meeting the coach.

“I was a Garnet and Gold girl here, we were like hostesses in the stadium and I primarily worked in President Sliger’s box so I did get a change to meet him, he was like Uncle Bobby to me. The man!”

Kilichowski, Stewart, and other fans say they’re keeping Bowden’s family in their thoughts and prayers.

“God bless his family, what an amazing man, what an amazing legacy. He’s an angel now. I think that he lived a life well lived, and we can only be grateful that we had him here at Florida State,” says Kilichoswki.

“We’re all very aware of Coach’s faith, we know where he is today and who he’s with and he’s living his best day today,” said Stewart.

It was a difficult day for FSU superfan Lynne Witherspoon, a longtime football and Bowden fan.

“It’s just a really sad day here,” Witherspoon says. “It’s like you lose a piece of your family. He will always be the GOAT around here and around the country and always be known for just being such a wonderful, wonderful human being.”

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