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Three Years After Coach's Retirement, FSU to Stage Bowden Weekend

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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Palm Beach Post (Florida)
October 24, 2013 Thursday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
775 words
Bowden to get send-off he deserved;
Seminoles will honor former coach who spent 34 years on their sideline.
By Tom D'Angelo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Bobby Bowden had been forced into retirement a few weeks earlier when incoming Florida State President Eric Barron was asked to represent the university at Bowden's final game, the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2010.

Barron had never met Bowden nor experienced an FSU football game day.

"I got a sense of what the Seminole brand is like, not on TV but in a stadium full of people doing the war chant," Barron said this week.

Barron saw Bowden carried off the field after his 417th and final game as the Seminoles' coach. Barron decided then that it wouldn't be the coach's final moment of glory after 34 years at FSU.

More than three years later, Barron asked Bowden to return to Florida State for one last send-off.

Bowden, who turns 84 on Nov. 8, accepted the invitation for Bobby Bowden weekend, which starts Friday in Tallahassee and concludes Saturday with him planting the spear on the field named in his honor before the No. 2 Seminoles play North Carolina State.

"It's was important to me all along to make that call," Barron said. "I knew there needed to be a little bit of space for a lot of different reasons."

Barron also knew the tribute was necessary because "(so) much of the psyche of the university is tied to this great coach who put football on the map and helped made FSU a household name."

Bowden's departure was messy. Then-President T.K. Wetherell made the decision to elevate coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher and end Bowden's reign after a third 7-6 season in four years. Bowden was angry and he and Wetherell -- an FSU receiver in the 1960s when Bowden was his position coach -- have not spoken since.

But Bowden made a clean break, trying to avoid casting a shadow over his successor.

"I've accepted it," Bowden said last week. "They did what they had a right to do. I wanted one year (to make it) 35. Plus I thought we had a pretty good ball club. It wasn't meant to be."

Fisher, who was Bowden's offensive coordinator, still has a strong relationship with his former boss, calling him his "hero." Bowden not only has avoided interfering with Fisher, he has nearly disappeared. Although he has kept his home just miles from campus, Bowden has not set foot in Doak Campbell Stadium since his departure -- not even attending the game in which he was inducted into the university's sports hall of fame.

Bowden is being welcomed back at the peak of Fisher's success. A statement victory at Clemson propelled FSU to No. 2 in the BCS standings.

"He made Florida State," Fisher said. "He was Florida State. That's why we have this stadium, that's why we have the facilities. That's why we have everything."

The Bowden weekend will begin with a golf tournament Friday followed by a tribute at the Civic Center. Bowden will walk on the field 30 minutes before Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff surrounded by 300 to 400 of his former players. He will be handed the spear and take part in one of college football's more historic traditions.

"It means the world to all of his former players and every Florida State fan," David Castillo of Palm Beach Gardens, who played for Bowden from 2003-05, said of his coach's return. "The way things ended wasn't ideal. Everybody who is a Florida State fan wishes he would have won a national championship and rode off into the sunset."

Bowden's return was spurred by his new role with Seminole Boosters Inc. Starting in January, he will make public appearances on behalf of the athletic department and receive $250,000 per year and half of the net royalty income from his licensing.

For Bowden, the weekend continues an active lifestyle in retirement. One day last week, he drove to Auburn, Ala., to shoot a commercial with Pat Dye and Gene Stallings and returned home that night. The next day he drove to Valdosta, Ga., for a speaking engagement. The next day, he flew from Valdosta to Birmingham to play in a golf tournament and flew home that night.

He does speaking engagements at least twice a week and plays golf or hits balls a couple of times every week. He spends every Saturday during the fall watching football from noon to midnight. His schedule is not surprising considering one of his many memorable quotes: "After you retire there's only one big event left."

Bowden many times recalled that his father died within a year of retirement. Bowden also was affected by the passing of coach Bear Bryant, who died one month after he coached his final game.

"I always think when you're my age and get inactive," Bowden said, "now you're dying every day."

Now, Bowden will be more active with Florida State back in his life.

tdangelo@pbpost.com Twitter: @tomdangelo44

North Carolina State at No. 2 FSU, 3:30 p.m., ABC

Saturday's game

October 24, 2013

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