Editor's Note: News 12 On Your Side reporter Bryan Baker is not only a Florida State fan, but also an alum. We asked him to write his thoughts about Tuesday's announcement that Bobby Bowden is retiring after FSU's bowl game.
Let's start in the spring of 2005. As a junior in a television reporting class, my assignment was to preview the upcoming football season. A good preview needed to include interviews with players and coaches. Inevitably, this included a talk with legendary head coach Bobby Bowden. I'd grown up watching and listening to him. Now, I'd have to somehow speak to him not as a fan, but as a reporter. An exciting prospect, but it was also a scary one. I had never done an on-camera interview and talking to Bowden was an intimidating place to start.
Against the backdrop of the green grass of Doak Campbell Stadium following a spring scrimmage, I waited. I sweated. I probably needed to use a bathroom. Coach Bowden approached me first, my face blotched red, ahead of the beat reporters waiting with recorders and notepads. He gave his only one-on-one interview to me. While those reporters watched, Bowden sensed my anxiety and put his hand on my back. "Relax, son," he said. "You'll do fine."
In that snapshot in time revealed who Bobby was as a person and a coach.
If you've never been affiliated with Florida State, it's difficult to understand how much of a cultural giant Bobby Bowden is in Tallahassee. The circumstance is unique at FSU, in that no other current coach has presided over the entire success of a college football program. FSU's history is too young. They didn't begin playing football until 1947 and had no prolonged success until after Bowden's arrival in 1976. Today, 34 seasons later, Bowden announced his retirement. And the collective spirit of most of the fans was sucked out, because he was nudged out.
It's hard to describe what a seismic shift Bowden's retirement means to the FSU community. Imagine living in a house in rural Augusta your entire life. It's all you know. And then, without choice you must move to a bustling, cramped studio apartment in New York City. No questions asked.
It's the same for us.
Fans of Florida State know nothing else besides Bowden. He's the guy who led FSU to 14 consecutive Associated Press top five finishes. In that time, two national championships and two Heisman winners. Numbers that are unmatched by any other school and will remain that way. A void will remain on the sidelines at Bobby Bowden Field forever, no matter what success another coach has there.
I am one of the few who has supported Bowden until the end. I thought he should be able to go out on his own terms, even in a wheelchair, because of what he has done not only for the football team, but for the school. Those of us that went to FSU, probably wouldn't have known much about it if not for Bowden.
The last few months have been a sad season, not because of the losses that have piled up, but because how our school has handled Bowden's situation. FSU has never been a school that has been overrun by boosters who meddle in the athletic program. But a fickle set who seemed to have forgotten why they have gained so much interest in the program have helped nudge Bowden out the door.
Bowden has his faults, sure. The Tampa Tribune beat reporter I used to work under said something profound once: that legends, once you get close enough, seem less impressive than they are from afar. Bowden often forgot names and numbers, including referring to 1990s running back Warrick Dunn as, "Warren." He didn't call plays for the last several years.
But assistant coaches around him say his mind was still sharp. To the end, he could walk into a recruit's living room and bring him to Tallahassee, simply because he was Bobby Bowden, and he treated them like family. He was a coach like none other, an old-school throwback who didn't curse and who put his spiritual life over his football life. And he probably was better at both than anyone else.
But above all else, Bobby Bowden was, is, and always will be Florida State University. I'm glad we're the only school that can say that.