I’ve often wondered, what would it have been like to see Babe Ruth play? How cool would it have been to tell your grandkids that you saw Ruth swing a bat in his heyday? What if you were there in the crowd the day he called his shot?
What was it like for those Alabama fans that we’re close to the program with Bear Bryant during the 1960s and 70s in Tuscaloosa? Living in Alabama for the past 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear many classic Bryant stories, most probably true, some maybe myth or legend. It’s facinating to hear and see the legend of the Bear still looming so large.
I, along with thousands of Florida State fans, had that opportunity with Bobby Bowden. I was in the stands in 1988 when he made quite possibly the gutsiest decision in the history of football calling the Puntrooskie. I was got to witness that. I can tell my kids and my grandkids about that one day. I was cheering wildly in the Orange Bowl when Bowden finally reached the pinnacle of his profession and won Florida State’s first National Championship. There were so many of us. We had the opportunity to witness one of the great careers in the history of college football. One that, with the changing landscape and big business that college football has become, we most likely will never see again.
He presided over the greatest single run of sustained success in college football history. Fourteen straight finishes in the Top 5. Fourteen straight seasons with 10 or more victories. Thirty-three straight winning seasons. Twenty-eight straight Bowl appearances. A string of 14 straight Bowl games without a loss. Two National Championships. More than that, though, he did it with grace, honesty, humor, humility, kindness, and self-deprecation. He was a treasure in the interview room, the booster circuit, and the pulpit as much as he was on the field.
Epic, like elite and literally, are overused words nowadays. However, I can’t think of a better word to describe the career of Bowden. His career extended beyond the usual and ordinary, a hero that wove a story exciting and adventurous. A poetic triumph with it’s own Polyphemus to overcome.
Bowden never got the proper send off, not where it should have happened, not how it should have happened. Finally, this Saturday, Seminole fans have the chance to show their final gratitude to the man whose name graces the very field he’ll stand on. I expect it to be a fairly emotional moment. Hundreds of former players accompanying him on the field while he plants the spear at Doak Campbell for the first time. I hope to see 83,000 strong there and I anticipate with great joy the thunderous applause and the long lasting ovation as his epic finally has it’s proper conclusion.