Bobby Bowden, the legendary former Florida State football coach who turned the Seminoles into one of college football’s premier programs in the 1980s and ’90s, announced Wednesday that he’s been diagnosed with a terminal medical condition.
Bowden, 91, released a statement to the Tallahassee Democrat.
“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. My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing.
“I am at peace.”
Robert Cleckler Bowden was hired away from West Virginia by FSU in 1976. In his fourth season, he led the Seminoles to an 11-0 record and a trip to the Orange Bowl, where they lost 24-7 to Oklahoma. Nevertheless, the ‘Noles finished sixth nationally in the Associated Press’s final poll.
A top-five finish (fifth) followed in 1980 when FSU went 10-2. From 1987-2000, Bowden led FSU to 14 consecutive top-five finishes, the most in college football history.
However, for much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bowden was known as the country’s best head coach that hadn’t won a national title yet.
There was the 1987 home loss to Miami — a game that had 60 future NFL players and 10 future first-round picks on the field — when the Seminoles allowed a 19-3 second-half lead to get away. UM mounted a furious comeback to take a 26-19 lead on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Steve Walsh to Michael Irvin.
The Hurricanes’ rally was aided by a Danny McManus fumble in the red zone and a missed 31-yard field goal by Derek Schmidt (missed field goals by FSU against Miami would become a haunting theme for years to come). But with 42 seconds left, McManus found Ronald Lewis for a TD pass to make it 26-25.
Bowden sent the extra-point team in to go for the tie, a strategy he had determined before the game.
“We had decided before the game, and I had decided after 1980 when we lost by one (10-9), that I would go for the tie in the same situation,” Bowden told the media at his post-game presser. “We had the extra-point team in, but I changed my mind. We had missed so many (kicks) today and the wind was really affecting our kicker.
“I was just afraid of missing it.”
The two-point conversion failed when McManus’s pass to Pat Carter was broken up by Bubba McDowell. The ‘Canes went on to win their second of five national titles, while FSU finished second in the country.
In 1988, FSU was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and opened at sixth-ranked Miami in the old Orange Bowl. Led by the flamboyant Deion Sanders, the Seminoles made a music video over the summer called ‘The Seminole Rap.’
But it was the ‘Canes that were singing all night long after blasting FSU, 31-0. The ‘Noles responded with 11 consecutive wins, including a 13-7 victory over Auburn at the Sugar Bowl. Sanders sealed the win when he intercepted Reggie Slack in the end zone with five seconds remaining.
In 1989, FSU’s season was derailed by back-to-back losses to start the year. Brett Favre orchestrated a 30-26 upset win for Southern Miss over the ‘Noles on Sept. 2 at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. In Week 2, 10th-ranked Clemson went into Doak Campbell Stadium and won a 24-23 decision. FSU won 10 games in a row, including a Fiesta Bowl win over sixth-ranked Nebraska, to finish 10-2 and ranked third in the AP poll.
FSU was ranked No. 1 in the preseason in 1991 and remained atop the rankings while ripping off 10 straight wins by margins of 11 points or more. On Nov. 16, second-ranked Miami rolled into Tallahassee with an undefeated record of its own.
After Miami had rallied to take a 17-16 lead late in the fourth quarter, Casey Weldon drove FSU into field-goal range in the final minute. After spiking the ball on a second-and-nine play following a one-yard run by Amp Lee, Bowden elected to go ahead and attempt the field goal on third down.
Gerry Thomas, who had already made three field goals that afternoon, set up for a 34-yard potential game winner. ABC’s late/great play-by-play man Keith Jackson was on the call:
“The snap…it’s up…missed it to the right! Miami players are all over the field. They’re going to get penalized for it, but “So what?” I’m sure is their attitude.”
One year later, third-ranked FSU came to the Orange Bowl with a 4-0 record to take on second-ranked UM. Trailing 19-16, Charlie Ward drove FSU into field-goal range in the final minute. On the game’s final play, FSU kicker Dan Mowrey missed a 39-yard attempt… Wide Right.
Bowden finally got over the hump in 1993, although it wasn’t without controversy. Ranked No. 1 in the preseason again, FSU won its first nine games by margins of 18 points or more, including a 28-10 home win over third-ranked Miami.
But on Nov. 13, Ward led the top-ranked ‘Noles into South Bend to challenge undefeated and second-ranked Notre Dame, which was led by head coach Lou Holtz. The Fighting Irish won 31-24 in the ‘Game of the Century,’ only to get upset by Boston College on a walk-off field goal at home the following week.
After Notre Dame’s loss, FSU moved back up to No. 1 and met second-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles won 18-16 when the Cornhuskers missed a potential game-winning field goal from 45 yards out on the final play. Although the Fighting Irish finished 11-1 with a head-to-head win over FSU, the 12-1 Seminoles were voted the national champions the next day.
In 1994, Florida had a 31-3 lead going into the fourth quarter at FSU in the regular-season finale for both schools. Both teams had brought 10-1 records into the game. Danny Kanell turned into Joe Montana for one quarter to spark a 28-0 rally.
After Rock Preston’s four-yard TD run to make it 31-30 with 1:45 left, Bowden overruled his entire coaching staff to kick the extra point. With no overtime in college football at the time, the game ended in a 31-31 tie. It was dubbed, ‘The Choke at Doak.’
The Choke at Doak set up an unprecedented (until 1996, of course) Florida-FSU rematch at the Sugar Bowl in a game that was given the moniker, ‘The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter.’ FSU won by a 23-17 count.
In 1996, Florida and FSU collided in Tallahassee with undefeated records on Nov. 30. The top-ranked Gators had a punt blocked and committed multiple turnovers to fall behind 17-0 in the first quarter. The Seminoles put relentless pressure on Florida QB Danny Wuerffel from their defensive ends Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson.
Wuerffel, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy, was intercepted three times in a 24-21 loss.
However, one week later, Texas upset unbeaten Nebraska as a 21-point underdog in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game. With a 30-27 lead on its own 28-yard line with more than two minutes remaining, Texas head coach John Mackovic had the audacity to go for it on a fourth-and-two play.
Texas QB James Brown rolled to his left and appeared to have plenty of room to run for the first down, but his tight end had leaked out behind the defense and Brown hit him in stride for an enormous gain that set up a TD. The Longhorns won 37-27.
Later that night, UF’s Danny Wuerffel threw six TD passes in a 45-30 win over Alabama at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. With the only other undefeated team besides FSU — an Arizona St. team led by QB Jake Plummer — locked into a trip to the Rose Bowl to face Ohio St., the Gators were invited to the BCS Championship Game for a rematch with the unbeaten and top-ranked ‘Noles.
Steve Spurrier used the shotgun formation for the first time in his coaching career, giving Wuerffel some extra time to get the ball out. FSU cut UF’s lead to 24-20 with a field goal early in the third quarter, but it was all Gators for the rest of the night. They coasted to a 52-20 win to win their first national title.
In 1997, FSU came to Gainesville with a 10-0 record to take on a Florida squad that had lost at LSU and vs. Georgia earlier in the season. Spurrier rotated QBs Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise in and out of the game every other play and Fred Taylor ran for four TDs in a 32-29 upset win.
FSU exacted revenge on the Gators in 1998 when fourth-ranked UF lost 23-12 in the rain at Doak Campbell. The ‘Noles advanced to the BCS Championship Game but came up on the wrong end of a 23-16 decision vs. Tennessee at the Fiesta Bowl.
In 1999, FSU was No. 1 in the preseason and never lost that spot, beating a Va. Tech team led by freshman QB Michael Vick 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl to win Bowden’s second national title. The Seminoles won 30-23 at third-ranked Florida to earn the invite to the BCS Championship Game.
In 2000, there was the Wide Right III game at the old Orange Bowl, where seventh-ranked Miami beat top-ranked FSU 27-24 on Oct. 7 when Matt Munyon’s potential tying field goal missed to the right. Nevertheless, FSU rebounded with six straight victories to garner a return trip to South Florida to face undefeated and top-ranked Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game at Pro Player Stadium.
This trip wasn’t any better than the first one that season. Bob Stoops’s OU defense completely blanked Heisman Trophy winning QB Chris Weinke in a 13-2 win for the Sooners. The ‘Noles got their only score on a bad snap for a safety by the OU long snapper on a punt.
In 2001, Bowden’s 14-year run of top-five finishes ended when FSU finished 8-4 and No. 15 in the polls. The ‘Noles would win 9, 10 and 9 again from 2002-04, but the program’s sharp decline really started in 2005. They finished 8-5 that year and ranked No. 22 in the AP poll.
In 2006 and ’07, FSU limped to 7-6 records and finished unranked. Jimbo Fisher was hired as the offensive coordinator and QBs coach in 2007.
After FSU limped to another 7-6 record in 2009, Bowden was forced out and replaced by Fisher, who won a national title in 2013.
Bowden won his final game in Jacksonville, where the ‘Noles beat West Virginia 33-21 at the Gator Bowl with dozens of his former players on the sidelines. The victory over WVU secured a 33rd consecutive winning season for FSU on Bowden’s watch.
He won 76.0 percent of his games at FSU, compiling a 315-98-4 record with a pair of natties and 12 ACC titles. Bowden ranks second among college football head coaches — at major schools, excluding Grambling’s Eddie Robinson and Saint John’s University’s (MN.) John Gagliardi — in most career wins (346) behind only Joe Paterno.
Bowden and his wife Ann have six children and 21 grandchildren. Eleven of his former assistants went on to become head coaches, including Miami’s current HC (Manny Diaz) and two active SEC HCs (Fisher and Kirby Smart). His 65-year-old son Terry Bowden is the new head coach at Louisiana-Monroe.
Bowden put FSU on the map in the late 1970s and early 1980s by scheduling the most difficult games possible. During those years, the ‘Noles played road games at Nebraska, at Oklahoma, at Pittsburgh, at LSU, at Mississippi St., at Auburn, at Arizona St., at Syracuse, at South Carolina, at Michigan and at Notre Dame.
He was never afraid to call a trick play. His most famous and most daring came at Clemson in 1988. In a tie game with 1:33 left, Bowden called a fake ‘punt-rooskie’ that worked to perfection. Leroy Butler had the ball placed between his legs and, as the rest of the team went right, he dashed left and down the sidelines 80 yards for a TD.
Bowden is undoubtedly one of the most successful, adored and iconic head coaches in college football history. All the best to him and his family during this difficult time.