When longtime Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden died Sunday at age 91, tributes were filled with words such as “dynasty,” “legendary” and “legacy.” But “faith” was mentioned even more, as family members, colleagues, players and even rivals recalled how Bowden shared and lived out his strong Christian beliefs.
Less than a month ago, Bowden revealed he had a terminal illness. Until then, he spoke frequently at churches and religious gatherings, including a surprise appearance in June at a luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. Sitting with Mark Richt, a former assistant coach whom Bowden helped lead to Christ, Bowden said evangelism “makes the world go around,” and “If we don’t go out and talk about Jesus, how is the world going to know?”
Bobby Bowden: An Earthly Legend With Eternal Impact
During his 34 seasons as head coach at FSU, Bowden won 411 games, two national championships, and 12 ACC championships. He took over a football program that had logged just four victories in the previous three seasons and led it to a record-setting 14 straight seasons finishing in the AP Top 5.
But as his former star quarterback Danny Kanell tweets, those numbers, while “insane,” actually “pale in comparison to the number of lives Bobby Bowden impacted for eternity. He was more preacher than coach. More father figure than mentor. More friend than teacher.” Kanell adds, “It’s important to know WHY he was kind and thoughtful. It was not to recruit or get favorable press. He was who he was because of his relationship with Jesus. A lot of Christians preach one thing but live another. Coach Bowden lived his faith daily. That is his legacy.”
It wasn’t until age 23, Bowden said, that he “finally realized that I’m saved through grace and not by any way that I could earn it.” In 2001, Bowden recorded video for an evangelism event led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, and he took to heart a message Graham’s father, Billy, once shared: “A coach can influence more people in a year than a preacher can in a lifetime.” When Bowden visited the Billy Graham Library in 2015, he said, “Faith allowed me to stay focused on things within my power while leaving the rest of it in God’s hands.”
Coach Bobby Bowden Wanted Others to Join Him in Heaven
Bowden, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006, put faith first, family second and football last. Tommy Bowden, one of his six children, described his father’s lifelong early-morning routine of reading and studying the Bible.
Tommy says the reason his father coached until age 80 was because the high-profile profession offered so many opportunities to share Jesus with others. “He wanted to coach as long as he could to advance the kingdom of God,” he says, adding that his dad wanted to take “as many people as he can to heaven with him.”
Former QB Kanell confirms, “You could not go through a week at FSU without hearing the gospel message.”
When announcing his undisclosed illness, Bobby Bowden revealed he was “at peace.” He said, “I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come.”