|Bobby, 'Bama and the Bear: Bowden finally gets shot at 'my team.'|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 September 2007 11:05|
Of course, Bowden was thinking about more than birdies and bogeys.
``The idea was to get a game with Alabama,'' he remembered. ``We were an independent back in those days. But coach Bryant said, 'No, I'm not playing Florida State. As long as I'm the athletic director, I'll never play Florida State.' So, we never got that game with Alabama.''
Until now. Three decades later and in the twilight of his career, Bowden finally gets a shot at the Crimson Tide.
Florida State (2-1) will face No. 22 Alabama (3-1) in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday - a game that has stirred plenty of emotions in the 77-year-old Bowden, who grew up in Birmingham and always figured he was destined to follow Bryant in Tuscaloosa.
``Alabama was my school,'' said Bowden, who will be facing the Tide for the first time in his 42 years as a head coach. ``I moved away from Alabama 40-something years ago, but that's always been my team.''
Behind his desk, Bowden still keeps a scrapbook he compiled as a kid, diligently cutting out every photograph and story he could about his beloved Tide. And who knows how things would have turned out if Alabama just had the foresight to offer him its head coaching job in December 1986?
``I was ready to take it,'' Bowden said Thursday, speaking by telephone from his office in Tallahassee. ``I was from there. I just thought that's where I was supposed to go. I thought that's the way God meant it to be, to end up back at my home.''
Alas, it wasn't meant to be. While many of Alabama's big-money boosters favored the homespun Bowden, then-university president Joab Thomas had different ideas: He was determined to break football's hold on the campus, preferring a more polished coach to help him spread that message.
Bowden quickly backed out when he realized that Thomas had several candidates in mind. The Tide wound up hiring Bill Curry, who was never accepted by the Alabama faithful. Thomas became a pariah, lasting only two more years as president. Curry followed him out the door after the 1989 season.
And Bowden? The following year, he began an unprecedented run of 14 straight 10-win seasons. After numerous close calls, he finally won his first national title in 1993, and added another six years later. He passed Bryant as the winningest coach in major-college history and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
These days, he likes to call his flirtation with Alabama ``the best move I never made.''
``I was always reluctant to follow Bear Bryant,'' Bowden said. ``I knew Alabama would never lose the Bryant thing. That's his. This is different down here. This is mine.''
His wife, Ann Bowden, is also glad that her husband gave up on his dream of coaching the Crimson Tide. She knows that Bryant, who died nearly a quarter-century ago, still casts a huge shadow over the program, which may explain why Nick Saban is the ninth coach of the post-Bear era.
Her husband was able to carve out his own very distinct legacy at Florida State, though the Seminoles have stumbled a bit in recent years. They have reached 10 wins only once in the past six seasons and are trying to rebound from an especially difficult campaign, one in which Bowden's son, Jeff, was forced to resign as offensive coordinator after facing relentless criticism by restless Seminoles boosters.
But no matter what happens at the end of Bowden's career, there's no denying he'll be a very difficult man to replace - much like Bryant was at Alabama.
``I know he's worried about this situation when he retires,'' Ann Bowden said. ``He's going to try to get out of the way.''
Until then, he continues to shape and influence the coaching landscape. Saban still tells the story of Bowden offering him a job at West Virginia, so Saban could be closer to his family after his father died. He didn't take Bowden up on the offer, but he never forgot it, either.
``That's the kind of guy we're talking about here,'' Saban said. ``When I talk about the coaching profession, people doing things the right way, this is the epitome of a man who has done it for a long, long time and done it with a lot of class, a lot of dignity, a lot of character.''
Growing up in Birmingham, which is about 50 miles from the Alabama campus and used to host several Crimson Tide games a year, it was only natural for Bowden to become a huge fan.
``I just lived and died with the University of Alabama,'' he said. ``I was one of those 10-year-olds who would cry when they lost. I would literally cry.''
About that time, he started keeping a series of scrapbooks devoted to his favorite passion: college football.
``Anytime I got a newspaper with a picture of a player or a story about a game, I would cut it out,'' Bowden said. ``I've got five of those books. One of them was just on Alabama. I've got pictures from about 1940 to 1945.
``I've still got that book behind my desk right now,'' he added.
After a stellar career at Woodlawn High School, Bowden enrolled at Alabama. He dreamed of playing halfback for the Crimson Tide - those were the days when most schools ran a version of the single wing, requiring someone who could run, pass and kick - but he lasted only one semester.
In high school, he met and fell in love with Ann. They got married after graduating from high school, which, in those days, prevented him from qualifying for an athletic scholarship. He transferred to Howard University in Birmingham (now known as Samford), where he majored in history and laid the foundation for his coaching career.
Bowden returned to Howard as the head coach in 1959, just one year after Bryant began his 25-year, six-national-championship run at Alabama.
``I was able to go there a lot to watch him and learn from him,'' Bowden said. ``I was young coach, just up and coming, and he was in his prime.''
Not that he modeled himself after Bryant, a rough-and-tumble man who could be brutal on his players and imposing to the media. Bowden has always preferred a more folksy approach, befriending players and reporters alike, rarely saying anything stronger than ``dadgummit,'' someone who clearly believes you catch more bees with honey.
So, it's not surprising Bryant had the upper hand at that golf outing back in 1976. When the Bear flatly shot down the idea of Alabama signing on to play the Seminoles, Bowden didn't object.
``I was so infatuated with him, I was afraid to make him upset,'' Bowden said, managing to chuckle at his timidity. ``When he said he was not going to play Florida State, I just figured that was the way it was supposed to be.''