The legacy of the ‘Bowden Boys’ continues

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 11:41 PM EDT
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DOUGLAS, Ga. (WALB) - The college football world lost a one-of-a-kind as Bobby Bowden, the man who coached the Florida State Seminoles to national prominence, died over the weekend at age 91.

Bowden wasn’t just a College Football Hall of Fame coach, with the second-most wins, he was one of the most respected to ever walk the sideline. And he started that journey in Douglas, at South Georgia State College.

Greg Tanner, the Athletic Director at South Georgia State said, “We get caught up in all his achievements in football and winning and everything, but knowing the person, knowing the man, that was a real treat, real special.”

Before coming to national prominence coach Bobby Bowden began his coaching career at South Georgia State College in Douglas.

From 1955 until 1958 he coached football, baseball, basketball, and was the athletic director. Even after his 34-year career and two national titles with the Florida State Seminoles, people who knew him said his home was in Douglas, Georgia.

Kathy Hancock, the Development Service Coordinator in the Office of Advancement said, “I think in some ways this just may have been home. And I think for anyone where you start your career is always going to have a special mark in your life.”

Bowden’s Hawks was a special group.

Despite his short time there, he built an unbreakable bond with his players.

“For some of them I don’t think they played football very much and for some of them were coming out of the Korean War and things like that. So, they all came in separate, but they left together,” said Hancock.

The family-like bond led to a decades-long agreement to reunite once a year.

Hancock continued, “They loved to be there and they would swarm around him and they would laugh and talk. And he would just absorb it, and you could tell that he had such a love for them. They were his, he was very sincere when he said, ‘These are my boys.’”

The Bowden Boys.

A group that’s beginning to dwindle in size as time goes by, but as his former player, Leon Smith, tells me... the stories grow each year.

Smith said, “I was on the first time Coach Bowden ever coached and I have never heard him used a swear word. Ever. Now he could say, ‘Dadgummit, we can do better than that!’”

Smith continued, “And I’ll tell you something else, he could look you dead in the eye and he’d say, ‘Boy, you were a better football player last week than you are today. I got a boy sitting over there on the bench that wants to play. If you don’t get after it, he’s going to be here in your place. And you’re going to be sitting on the bench.’ And when he tells you that, if you have any fire left, you’re going to use it.”

Fortunately, the Boys were able to reunite with Coach Bowden one last time in June.

“Seeing him this year, he was frail. But again, he was still sharp-minded. He would always, in his humble nature, talk with you and take pictures and signed a football for my son,” said Tanner.

Tanner continued, “One thing I was impressed with every year, was the stories he told. One year he spoke about having heart. Whatever you did, have heart. Not just the object in your chest pumping but to have heart, to have compassion.”

And more than 50 years later, his teams’ love for their coach is undeniable.

“He touched us so much, in so many ways, and so many times. And I’ll say this, next to my daddy he’s the greatest man I have ever met in my lifetime,” said Smith.

Smith added, “And I’ll look back on it, he did so much for me and I didn’t realize it until I’ve been out of college for about 15 years and I finally realized, good lord if I hadn’t been there with Coach Bowden and played for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I wouldn’t have the job I got, and all of that. He was so effective in our lives.”

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