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Faith, family, football -- in that order -- preached at Bobby Bowden memorial service

Former players, coaches, family members reflect on life of former FSU coach
'Bobby Bowden: A Celebration of Life' at Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Aug. 14, 2021
Posted at 8:30 AM, Aug 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-14 15:25:35-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Faith, family and football was the prevailing theme throughout Saturday's celebration of life for Bobby Bowden.

Former players, coaches and family members of the legendary Florida State football coach reflected on Bowden's life and legacy at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee.

Among those who spoke at Saturday's public memorial service were Mickey Andrews, Bowden's longtime defensive coordinator; Mark Richt, who spent many years as an assistant under Bowden before becoming head coach at Georgia and Miami; former star running back Warrick Dunn, who helped Bowden and the Seminoles win their first national championship in 1993; and former quarterback Charlie Ward, Bowden's first Heisman Trophy winner.

Bobby Butler, a former cornerback under Bowden who went on to become a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons, officiated the service, crediting Bowden with leading him to the Lord.

Throughout Bowden's 34 seasons at Florida State, the College Football Hall of Fame coach always preached about the three Fs -- in that order -- and emphasized the importance of God in the lives of those who knew him.

Butler, who grew up in Delray Beach, shared a story about how Bowden was speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting in West Palm Beach early during Butler's FSU career when Bowden publicly praised Butler as being a fine young Christian.

However, Butler admitted that, at that time, he hadn't yet truly embraced God's presence and decided to dedicate himself to being the man whom his coach believed him to be. After 12 seasons with the Falcons, Butler retired and is now the assistant pastor at New Destiny Christian Ministries in Georgia.

Former linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was a member of Bowden's 1993 national championship team, also spoke, recalling the time that Bowden called him into his office and told Brooks that he wasn't living up to his potential.

Flowers adorn Bobby Bowden statue outside Doak S. Campbell Stadium at Bobby Bowden Field, Aug. 14, 2021
Flowers adorn the Bobby Bowden statue outside Doak S. Campbell Stadium at Bobby Bowden Field on the morning of the former Florida State football coach's memorial service, Aug. 14, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.

It turned out that Brooks, who had never made a "C" in his life, got the grade in biology in his first semester, leading Bowden to express his disappointment. Little did Brooks know that Bowden had his mother listening in on the conversation over the speakerphone.

Brooks joked that his mother went on a profanity-laced rant, leading Bowden to warn him he'd better get it together before she came to Tallahassee to kick both of their butts.

A teary-eyed Andrews said Bowden, who retired the same year as Andrews after the 2009 season, taught him how to coach tough, but also how to care.

"Now he's our saint," Andrews said.

Ginger Bowden Madden read from a letter that her father had written to her mother, dated March 10, 1949. It was the final letter he wrote Ann Estock from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was a quarterback for the Crimson Tide.

Bowden would soon leave school and go on to wed the letter's recipient, his wife of 72 years.

The widow, who as matriarch of the Bowden clan oversaw the domestic affairs while Bowden led the Seminoles to two national championships and 304 wins, sat in the front with her six children as Bowden's closed casket rested in front of the podium.

Cover of Bobby Bowden memorial service program
This is a look at the cover of the program handed out to attendees at the celebration of life for former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Aug. 14, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Bowden's sons who followed in his footsteps -- former Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden and current ULM head coach Terry Bowden -- also reflected on the life of their father.

Tommy Bowden said he always knew that his dad loved him, but he had never heard him say it. So, as the end was near and Bowden's eyes were open, he told his dad, "I love you." That's when, he said, Bowden replied, "Thanks. I appreciate that."

Terry Bowden said he's tried to emulate his father at ULM, telling his players that they can't expect to be successful if they don't make football a priority, like his dad did. The difference, though, is that Bowden didn't make it "the" priority.

"Football was a priority and it was FSU football," Terry Bowden said.

Finally, Bowden's former pastor, the Rev. Ronny Raines recalled the time he asked the coach what was his least favorite animal. Without hesitation, Bowden answered, "A gator." When asked what was his second-least favorite animal, Bowden said, "Another gator."

The celebration concluded with a special performance by the FSU Marching Chiefs, who honored Bowden with renditions of the fight song and war chant.

Bowden died last weekend at the age of 91 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Saturday's ceremony followed a day in which hundreds of people paid their respects to Bowden as he lay in repose inside the old Florida Capitol building and FSU's Coyle E. Moore Athletics Center.

DeSantis directed U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff Friday outside the Leon County Courthouse, Tallahassee City Hall and the Florida Capitol.