For many of us, this is a sad time in college football. At the age of 91, former WVU and Florida State head football coach, Bobby Bowden, is in the final stages of a battle with pancreatic cancer.
College football will miss Bobby Bowden. Our state will miss him. Truthfully, in many ways, we weren’t that good to him when he was the head coach at WVU from 1970-75. The treatment of Bowden by our state’s fans was not our state’s finest hour.
In the fall of 1970, in Bowden’s first year as head coach, the Mountaineers led Pitt in Pittsburgh 35-8 at halftime. When Pitt came back to win the game 36-35, the angry WVU faithful gathered outside the Mountaineer locker room in old Pitt Stadium. In recalling that game, Bowden said, “Our fans blocked the locker room door after the game. I couldn’t get out. If I had, they might have lynched me.”
In1974, WVU had a disappointing season under Bowden. Expectations were high and the roster featured an All-American receiver in Danny “Lightning” Buggs.
However, Bowden lost his first two quarterbacks to injury and had to play a true freshman, Dan Kendra. WVU was stunned in the opening game by Richmond and stumbled to a 4-7 record.
Bed sheets hung from many dorm room windows that said “BYE BYE BOBBY.” Someone placed “For Sale” signs in his front yard, which his wife removed. Bowden was hung in effigy in town.
Through it all, Bowden handled everything with class. He kept doing his job and living his life. He spoke at virtually every high school sports banquet and every chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes huddle in the state. His children went to public schools and participated in sports and other activities. Bowden taught Sunday school at his church in Morgantown.
In 1975, when Bowden’s team was healthy, the Mountaineeres upset Tony Dorsett and Pitt, posted an 8-3 record and beat Lou Holtz and North Carolina State in the Peach Bowl.
After that game, Holtz left the Wolfpack for the New York Jets and Bowden left WVU to take over a downtrodden Florida State program.
At Florida State, Bowden did one of the best coaching jobs in college football history. In the three seasons prior to his arrival, the Seminoles posted a 4-29 record. Bowden compiled a record of 377-129-4, won two national championships and the Seminoles were ranked in the top five for 14 consecutive seasons.
Through it all, he loved our state and its people. He maintained many friendships here and came back often. He never held a grudge for our unfair treatment toward him. He was kind to everyone.
College football will miss him. We may never see another like him.