Football and faith are big business for Bobby Bowden
Tuesday, Jun 12, 2001
By Sandra Vidak
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)--Whether it's leading his team to a national championship on the gridiron, or carefully tending his flock of football players, Florida State's Bobby Bowden is on-mission for the Lord -- 24 hours a day.
During 46 years of coaching, Bowden has concerned himself with the salvation of nearly 5,000 young men who have providentially found themselves at his coaching door. Sitting at his desk -- family photographs to his right and a picture-window view of the football playing field at Doak Campbell Stadium on his left -- the larger-than-life personality becomes the down-to-earth mentor to players and coaches alike. He is just as concerned about his players "getting saved" as he is about them learning playbooks.
In fact, when a student athlete signs to play football at Florida State University, one of the first things the coach does is send a letter to the parents asking for permission to take the student to church.
Bowden takes the players, as a team, to church twice each season. The churches selected are not necessarily Baptist; typically one is predominantly Anglo and the other predominantly African-American.
"I make all my boys, black or white, go because I want them to see that they are welcomed here in this church no matter what the color of their skin. I want them to understand that."
He also tells the parents, "I want them to carry on the way that you have trained them in your home because I know how it is when kids get away to college -- the first thing they do is quit going to church."
And while Bowden may be a man of character and integrity, don't under estimate him as an opponent. Firm coaching principles are as important to him as winning the game.
Tangible evidence of the success of this football legend's program is on display in the Coyle Moore Athletic Center. The football wing is a museum that houses two Waterford crystal national championship trophies (1993 and 1999), along with hundreds of other awards, rings, trophies, outstanding player portraits and memorabilia from 24 years of winning football games.
Sure, Bowden is proud of winning but it's mainly others -- boosters, media and fans -- who bring up the impressive, record-breaking statistics. Bowden unequivocally gives God the glory for his success.
"God hasn't blessed many coaches more than He has me. He sure has blessed me" and for that "I am very thankful," Bowden said. Specifically, he mentioned that, "God has given me a great family. We've all been very fortunate."
Bobby and Ann Bowden have been married 51 years and their family includes six children -- all married -- and 21 grandchildren, all healthy.
Bowden truly loves people. Just to watch him walk around the athletic complex is a lesson in people skills as he speaks and nods to every person he sees. Colleagues say he "never walks past an admiring child without a wink and a smile."
The Birmingham, Ala., native evidences a God-given talent to motivate others. The genteel charm, quick wit and Southern drawl, mixed with a friendly and outgoing man who loves life and lives it to the fullest, makes people just want to be around him.
"I just love to coach," he affirmed. "That may sound simple, but I think sometimes people like the things that go around coaching and not the actual job."
Colleagues use words like "respect, sincerity, class, honesty, charisma, charm and humor" to describe Bowden. His faith in God, commitment to Christ and "rock-solid character" are the things that define this man -- not wins, losses or coaching records.
"Our mission on earth is to glorify God, in whatever [situation] He's put us." So if you're doing it to the glory of God, he added, then it better be good.
"I've always felt like He put me in coaching to try to reach young men through coaching, through playing ball, you know? It opens a lot of doors for them."
Startling numbers of Bowden's players become first-round NFL draft picks, but Bowden encourages them to seek God's will in planning their futures.
"God is going to find a way for you to make a living," he said. "He is going to find a profession for you. And to me that's what all these college students should be doing -- searching for the profession into which God wants them to go. Now most of them are going to be led into it by their abilities. Some of them just feel like they want to go into medicine, law, teaching, coaching or criminology. In other words there's something that just leads you in there, and I feel like if people will ask and seek, that God will lead them where He wants them to go."
Reflecting on his career and what God has taught him through coaching, Bowden said, "If you love Him and serve Him and try to be loyal to Him and obedient to Him, He's not going to let you fail. That's the thing that has happened to me."
Ever mindful of his Christian testimony, Bowden has "always tried to put God first -- I've tried. I don't want people to think that 'Bobby really thinks he's a good boy.' No, I don't think I'm good. I try to be good. But the thing about it is that God has taught me that if you try to be obedient and try to follow the rules and try to do what He asks you to, you still can be a success."
Win, lose or draw, Bowden's first order of business at the end of a game is to immediately shake the other coach's hand. He is acutely aware of the constant audience of players, coaches, fans and media watching for his reaction, particularly during turbulent times.
Bowden was "raised in a very good Christian home" under the care of "great" parents. They took him to church all of his life, had prayer in the home and read Scripture.
Bowden made a public profession of faith when he was around age 10, but said it wasn't until he was 23 he really "got the picture" and rededicated his life to the Lord.
He recalled, "As I came up, I thought that being good was being a Christian. I knew you had to join the church. I joined the church. I knew you had to be baptized. I was baptized. I thought that -- plus being good -- makes you a Christian.
"I finally realized that you are saved by grace." It's "nothing that you did and nothing that you earned. Once I understood that, it made life simpler to me. Because, with understanding grace, it makes you want to do better. Nobody's perfect. I make mistakes every day and do things that are wrong, though I try not to. But that's the thing about being a Christian and really believing: You try not to."
He added, "The older I get the stronger I get about my Christian beliefs and faith."
Ever since his 1953 rededication experience, Bowden has accepted invitations to speak whenever and wherever he can, particularly to church groups, and particularly when he is on the road with the team. Whether the media is watching or not, he minces no words when speaking of eternal salvation.
Comparing his role as a coach and that of ministers, who he admires because "they have got the toughest job in the world," Bowden acknowledged, "In coaching I can't make everybody happy. There's no way. If you win, you didn't win by a big enough score. ... If you are a minister and you are preaching" the responsibility is greater. "You can't make everybody happy there; don't water it down so that these people who don't believe don't get their feelings hurt," he admonished. "I think you've got to say it like it is, in the best loving way that you can say it now. But, again, preach the Bible and what the Bible teaches and I think your church will flourish."
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