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Florida State coach Bobby Bowden just loves to drop in for a visit

Take a load off, mister, and hop up in the chair. You new around here? Figured you were. Don't get many fancy haircuts like yours down this away. But don't get all nervous. I can cut hair every which way but loose. Bet you're a football fan, am I right? 'Course, if you're plannin' on keepin' this hair, you best become a 'Nole fan right quick. The 'Noles? The Seminoles. The Florida State Seminoles. I tell you what, you better bone up on your 'Noles, on account of that's all anybody in Tallahassee wants to talk about these days. That and Bobby Bowden. I do believe that man could get his-self elected governor of this state if he had the itch. Or at least an alderman.

Bobby Bowden? Well sir, Bobby Bowden may have saved football in this town is all Bobby Bowden did. He's the coach at FSU. Has 'em ranked No. 1 or 2 in the country, dependin' on who you set your watch by. He's fixin' on makin' me a famous person, too. Says if he wins the national championship this year, he'll get his head shaved clean as a cue ball. And yours truly will do the honors. I figure all he has to do is beat Miami in the season opener and I can start my 'lectric razor up.

'Course, even if FSU loses, Bowden will still go down as kind of a hero in these parts. I guess he doesn't look much like your normal hero. Bobby's middle goes about 12 laps to the mile. Most of the time you see him around town chompin' on a cigar but never lightin' it. Doesn't drink, neither. And the man hates shoes and socks like in-laws. Anytime he can, he'll kick 'em off and let his dogs breathe free, even in his office. He'll roll up his pants, too, so's he doesn't much look like a 59-year-old football coach as he does a nine-year-old kid goin' fishin'.

Nicest man you'd ever want to meet, too. He'll talk to anybody like they was his longest-lost cousin. "A man shouldn't pass a man in the street without speakin' to him," is how Bowden says it. And you know how some coaches make a school pay 'em off if they get fired? Well, Bowden put it in his contract that he's got to pay them if he flies the coop. If he left now, he'd have to pay FSU $750,000, which is pretty good cigar money, whether you're lightin' 'em or not.

I swear, when Bowden got here in 1976, the school was flat broke so they stuck him with a 10-year road schedule just to make ends meet. So what's Bowden do? He goes to Nebraska and beats them there two out of four times. Usually a guy goes to Nebraska and just hopes his job is still waitin' for him when he gets back. Same with Ohio State. Bowden goes to Columbus twice and licks 'em twice. There's just somethin' about him. The more you get in his face, wave your towels, curse his kin, the more he eats it up. Like, take LSU. You know what it's like in Death Valley, right? One of those LSU fans bites you and you get tetanus shots for 12 weeks. But Bowden's been down there five times and came out with four wins between his teeth. He's also 1 for 1 at Notre Dame and 2 for 2 at Arizona State. The man is 48-24-2 away from home. Who needs Roger Miller when we got our own King of the Road?

Well, O.K., so he's got a little thing about Miami lately. Bobby knows it, too. Bobby could probably go up to Washington and beat the Redskins two out of three, but when it comes to Miami he's Clark Kent wearin' kryptonite underwear. He just can't see clear to beat 'em. He's lost to 'em four out of the last five. Last year's Miami game in Tallahassee was death. Don't bring it up around town 'less you're not real fond of that bridge-work of yours. We're down by one with 42 seconds left. Bowden sends the kickin' team in. Then somebody calls time out (Bowden swears it wasn't him) and, with all those kids jumpin' up and down, Bowden changes his mind and sends the two-point team in. Some folks said the players talked him into it, but Bowden says that's bull malarkey. He talked hisself into it. The kicker had been havin' a career bad day. missin' two field goals, one of 'em on a busted snap, and an extra point to boot.

So they throw a play-action pass instead, and the pass gets knocked down and Miami goes on to win the national championship, and we go on to 11 and 1 and finish second in the country. That game was the whole ball of wax right there, just like it'll be this year. Only we got an edge this year. It's on the road.

Anyhow, whether he wins that one or not, folks in Tallahassee won't stop likin' Bowden cause Bobby is a lot like Florida State—he came up from nothin'. It wasn't but 41 years ago when FSU didn't even have men on campus. Back then, it was the Florida State College for Women. And even when we got men, some of 'em needed ID to prove it. Before Bowden got here, FSU was known for some strange goings-on.

One coach we had was a guy named Bill Peterson, who wasn't bad, except for the time he told the team to grab a knee for the pregame prayer and then, when he had silence, started out, "Now I lay me down to sleep...."

Then there was Larry Jones and the chicken-wire mess. Coach Jones had these chicken-wire wrestling matches. He'd make his players wrestle under some chicken wire that wasn't more than a couple of feet high. The idea was to stay low and sweat until you saw Jesus or some such thing, but some of the players complained that it was inhumane and when Larry went zip for 11 in 1973, the school president said Larry was inhumane to the fans and canned him and his chicken wire.

Then came this fellow, Darrell Mudra. Nobody really knew what he looked like cause he stayed up in the press box during games. Said he wanted to del-e-gate responsibility to his assistants. Of course, when Mudra went 4 and 18 out of the box, it wasn't just the assistants who got their butts kicked out. Maybe Mudra thought they wouldn't find him in the press box.

Truth is, things got so low around here that folks were seriously considerin' scrappin' football for good. Accordin' to the athletic director at the time, John Bridgers, the athletic debt was just a neck hair short of $700,000 in 1973. FSU had took to makin' suicide road sked-jools just to get itself out of the red. In one year it signed deals for 72 games, nearly ever' one of 'em away. I do believe they would've sked-jooled the Kremlin if the rubles were right.

And what poor sucker do they get to run this mess? Bobby Bowden. Ain't it funny how things work out? Without that sked-jool, Bowden wouldn't have won all those road games and put us and him on the map. 'Course, you get the idea he doesn't give a rooster's droppin' who knows how good he is.

That might be 'cause Bowden's just happy to be breathin' and walkin' around. When he was 13 and growin' up in Birmingham, he was struck down by rheumatic fever and spent six months flat on his back, then six more cooped up inside the house. "Every morning at 10 o'clock, that doctor would come with a needle that long," Bowden will tell you. "And in those days, they didn't sharpen them, either."

Bowden had what the doctors call an enlarged heart, and the doctors told him if he wasn't planning on living past 38, just to keep on exercising and playing football like he'd done. Well, Bobby wouldn't listen and snuck out and played ball, anyway. 'Course, later in life, he got to rememberin' what that doctor had said. "When I turned 38," Bowden says, "you don't think I was worried?" But Bowden's still among the livin', and isn't nobody in Tallahassee not tickled pink about that.

Somewhere in there, Bowden made Little All-America as a quarterback at Howard University (now Samford) in Birmingham, then got his first head coachin' job at South Georgia College, where he had to coach the basketball team and drive the bus to boot. At the time he and Ann—that's his wife—already had four of their six kids. I reckon he and Ann must be the foremost producers of college football coaches in the country. One son, Tommy, is the receivers coach at Alabama. Another, Terry, is the head coach at Samford and still a third. Jeff, is the offensive coordinator at Samford, and just for good measure, his son-in-law, Jack Hines, is the defensive coordinator there. Then there's Steve. He's the one Bowden calls "the black sheep of the family." He's a preacher.

Anyway, back then, all them kids were no bigger'n a sneeze, and Bobby and Ann didn't have two nickels to rub together. So during the summers. Bowden would work two jobs—10 in the morning till 8 at night as a lifeguard, then 8 at night till 8 in the morning weighing tobacco at a warehouse. Nobody would come in much when it started gettin' late at the warehouse, so he'd lay down on piles of tobacco and take a nap. 'Course, you had to be careful 'cause the place was crawlin' with these gigantic rats. Like Bowden says, "You didn't sleep too good."

Well, Bowden was 41 when he finally got a big-time head coaching job at West Virginia and things were goin' fine there—winnin' more than he was losin'—until 1974. That's when he went 4 and 7, and the fans started spittin' on him, leavin' FOR SALE signs on his front lawn, hangin' him in effigy from a tree. Stuff like that. Pretty hard on a guy with six kids. Bowden'll tell you it got kinda embarrassin' havin' to say, "O.K., son, go cut Daddy down now."

Right then and there, Bobby says, he made up his mind to get out of West Virginia. So when FSU called the next year he scarfed it up. 'Course, it was a little different than what he'd been used to. Bowden likes to say that when he was at West Virginia, all the bumper stickers said BEAT PITT. But when he got to Florida State, the bumper stickers just said BEAT ANYBODY. Fact is, Bowden's game plan was to take that job and be gone by 1981. It's like he says, "I looked at that sked-jool and I said, 'No way a guy can survive that thing.' "

But he's still here, and maybe that's because ol' Bobby loves a challenge and there ain't no bigger challenge than walkin' into a Columbus, Ohio, or a Lincoln, Nebraska, and turning a stadium from all red to a ghostly kind of pale inside of 60 minutes. 'Course, Bowden won't say so, but there's a fair bit of coachin' involved here. He beat Ohio State in 1981, partly by usin' a throwback pass to the quarterback, then went back the next year and beat 'em with a fake field goal. Sometimes it's darn near supernatural. In 1981 he had to play, in order now, Nebraska. Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt and LSU—all on the road—and dadgummit if he didn't win three out of five.

That '81 season was a big one for the Sod Cemetery, too. You never heard of that, neither, I suppose. Ever'time the 'Noles win a big road game where they went into it as the underdogs, one of the players'll cut a piece of turf out of the stadium where the deed was done and plant it back home in Bobby's Sod Cemetery, where all good teams go to die. Each piece of sod gets its own tombstone, with the score and the date. And they don't care if it's real grass or fake. Bobby'd cut a hole in the parquet floor at Boston Garden if he won there.

'Course, people 'round here would forgive you if you lost almost every game, includin' Miami, so long as you beat Florida. That's somethin' Bowden didn't do for six straight years. He was somebody's Coach of the Year twice, took FSU to nine bowls in the last 11 seasons, including two Orange Bowls, but to some people 'round here, if you don't beat Florida, you got no business makin' the drive back from Gainesville. One time after Bobby lost to Florida, he said. "I'm tellin' you, if I can't find a way to beat 'em, maybe they ought to find someone better...right now, though, I can't think of anybody."

Good thing, because in 1984 coach Charley Pell got thrown in the NCAA cooler and fired by Florida for cheatin', and Bowden whupped 'em last year, 28 to 14—on the road, a course. Anyhow, Pell's gone and Bobby's still here and seems like the sun is comin' up all over Tallahassee these days. Bowden isn't goin' anywhere. It's like Bobby says, "I like it right here in the briar patch."

And now here he is in that same ol' patch lookin' at what could be his best season ever. Don't know about you, but we think it's right nice all this is happenin' to a barefoot guy like Bobby Bowden. It's like Ann says, "We've sat in every seat on the bus. And let me tell you. the front seat is the best." Funny, but to make that trip, maybe it did take an enlarged heart.

Shave your neck?









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