UNION — More than 500 people gathered at a local church on Thursday to hear the testimony of one of the most well known college football coaches of all time.
The Philippi Baptist Church Family Faith Center was packed wall to wall with people who came to meet and listen to the testimony of Coach Bobby Bowden.
Bowden coached the Florida State Seminoles from 1976-2009, guiding the team to more than 300 wins, two national championships, 12 ACC titles, and finishing among the top five in the country for 14 consecutive seasons. Bowden also led the Seminoles to bowl games in 28 consecutive seasons, and during his 34-year tenure as FSU head coach, he only had one losing season — his first. Before he became head coach at Florida State, Bowden coached the West Virginia Mountaineers from 1970-1975 and the Howard Bulldogs (former Howard College in Birmingham, Ala.) from 1959-1962. Bowden was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006, and he coached his final game on Jan. 1, 2010, leading the Seminoles to a 33-21 victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.
Associate Pastor Tommy Mann introduced Bowden to those in attendance on Thursday as the greatest college football coach in history. Mann said he had always admired Bowden, even though he is a lifelong Florida Gators fan. Mann said he admired Bowden for his actions, and mentioned a section of Bowden’s autobiography in which he discussed leading devotions with his players despite it not always being popular. Mann quoted Bowden from the book:
“I would rather be spiritually correct than politically correct.”
Bowden had those in attendance roaring with laughter from the time he took the microphone. He joked about subjects ranging from football to marriage to parenting to driving in Florida. Bowden said his wife used to tell him that he loved football more than he loved her.
“I heard that every year — ‘you love football more than me,’” Bowden said. “I said, ‘college or pro?’”
Bowden then began to talk to those in attendance about his testimony and his love for Jesus Christ. He said he would often tell his team at the end of each year that it was the last time they would all be together.
“I can tell you too,” Bowden said Thursday evening. “This is the last time we’ll all be here together like this. But if you believe in Jesus Christ, we’ll all be together again one day.”
For years, Bowden has been a supporter of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), and he explained why.
“I think our nation has a great need for the FCA,” Bowden said. “Parents in our nation are not getting their kids into church anymore.”
Bowden said he was asked at the end of his coaching career if boys had changed over the years.
“Boys haven’t changed; parents have changed. If you’re old enough, you remember back in the days when everybody had a daddy.”
Bowden said he can remember at one point in his coaching career at FSU when nearly 75 percent of his team members had grown up in a household without a father in the home. He said they had all been raised by mothers, grandmothers, aunts and other family members.
“Thank God for those mothers, but where are the daddies?” Bowden asked. “FCA is trying to fill that void. FCA is trying to get coaches to be like fathers because they might be the only father some of these kids ever know.”
Bowden closed with a story about playing baseball in his youth. He talked about not being able to hit the ball until one game in which he finally connected.
“I finally hit it solid; it came flying off the bat,” he said.
Bowden described watching the ball as he rounded the bases. He mentioned tagging second base and eventually third as the third-base coach waved him to home.
“I heard the last thing he said, ‘Bud, hurry!” Bowden said.
Bowden described watching the catcher’s eyes open wider as he prepared to catch the ball and tag him out. Bowden said he ran into the pitcher and hit home plate, and the umpire said he was safe with a home run. Bowden said his teammates all came out to congratulate him, but then he heard the first baseman yell to the catcher to throw him the ball. The catcher threw it, the first baseman tagged the base, and Bowden was out because he had missed first base when he rounded the bases. Bowden then explained the meaning of the story. He said second base represented the good things he had done, and third base represented the honors he had won.
“Except they didn’t count because I didn’t touch first,” Bowden said, explaining that first base represented Jesus. “You can do all those other things, but they don’t mean a thing without Jesus. If I can remind you to do anything, be sure you give your life to Jesus.”
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234.