JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Clutching his Bible in one hand and gesturing toward the sky with the other, Bobby Bowden, one of the winningest coaches in college football history, said he didn’t know “when the end” would come for him, but “I’m studying for my finals.”
Prepping to end a coaching career spanning 55 years, the last 33 at Florida State, the 80-year-old grandfather and member of First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, spoke about his faith at the Gator Bowl’s Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s breakfast.
Bowden, who amassed 389 career victories and two national championships, chuckled in predicting that many in the room didn’t know who they would marry, how many children they would have, where they would eventually live or what kind of job they would have.
“I’ve already been there. Mine’s past. Eighty years’ worth,” Bowden said. “Therefore, I can see exactly how God put my life together. All y’all can’t yet.”
Taking it back to the 1940s, Bowden said rheumatic fever kept him in bed for six months when he was 13. The doctor told him to forget athletics. Three years later, Bowden recounted, his mother came into his bedroom, asked him if he believed in God and prayer and then challenged him to ask God for healing.
“I prayed God would heal me and let me play again,” Bowden said. After those three years of inactivity, a heart specialist told him to “go sic ’em.”
From high school to college and then to his first job, Bowden learned to trust God’s leading, never wondering about the next step. After graduating from Howard University (now Samford in Birmingham, Ala.), Bowden said the athletic director told him to go earn his master’s degree and they would hire him as the assistant coach.
Tracing his route from there to South Georgia College to FSU (as assistant coach 1963-65) to West Virginia and then back to FSU in 1976, Bowden said he never had to ask for a job.
“If you’ll put your faith in God through Jesus Christ and ask Him to lead you, He will do that. That’s what He did in my life,” Bowden said. “We think that God’s not alive, that He can’t work miracles.
“He worked one with me.”
Retelling a story about when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and running for president, Bowden said he went to Washington to meet with religious leaders including Billy Graham and the late Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy.
Kennedy, who served 47 years at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, asked Reagan what would happen if he were to die. Reagan, Bowden recalled, recited John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
“And with you, I leave that answer,” Bowden told the crowd. “Don’t you forget that answer. Because you are gonna have to use it one of these days. I am too.”
Harkening back again to his boyhood home in Alabama, Bowden said he would lie down in the front yard after tossing a football around on a warm summer day, looking up at the clouds, thinking about God and wishing he could see Him.
“The great story is … God not only stuck His head out, He came down here,” Bowden said. “… Jesus says, ‘I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. You are not going to get to the Father but through Me.’… He made the invisible visible.”
Bowden ended his career at the Gator Bowl Jan. 1 with a 33-21 win over West Virginia.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.