College football lost one of its revered coaches and leaders with the passing of Bobby Bowden at 91 on Aug. 8. He took over a fledgling Florida State program in 1976 and turned it into a college football powerhouse over the next 34 seasons.
A devout Christian who attributed his success to his faith, Bowden was also a class act. When he was the head coach at West Virginia, he helped support Marshall rebuild its program after its team was killed in a plane crash. The outpour of statements and condolences from his former players is also a testament to his mentorship.
There are too many significant moments in Bowden’s football life to count, but here are the 10 greatest.
1. Peach Bowl (1975)
Bowden was an All-American quarterback at Howard College (now Samford University) before returning to be its head coach from 1959 to 1962. After assistant coaching stints at Florida State and West Virginia, he took the reins of the Mountaineers program in 1970, going 42-26 in six seasons. His finest year came in 1975, when West Virginia went 9-3 and beat Tony Dorsett and Pittsburgh 17-14 in the Backyard Brawl. The Mountaineers closed the season by beating NC State 13-10 in the Peach Bowl.
2. Florida State’s First Bowl (1977)
Ironically, Bowden saw Florida State as a stepping stone to another larger program when he took the job in 1976. He wasn’t there long before he decided to finish his career in Tallahassee. The Seminoles went 5-6 in 1976 — Bowden’s only losing season there — and then went 10-2 and made the Tangerine Bowl, beating Texas Tech 40-17. Florida State would go to a bowl every season from 1982 until Bowden’s final season in 2009.
3. 14 Straight Top-Five Finishes (1987-2000)
It’s hard to describe nearly 15 years as a “moment,” but the Seminoles' run of 14 straight top-five finishes from 1987 to 2000 is unprecedented. Along the way, Florida State won two national titles and played for it three more times in bowl games.
4. First National Championship (1993)
After coming up short several times, Bowden finally won his first national title. Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward, the Seminoles' fast-break offense went 12-1 and beat Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl in one of college football’s greatest games.
5. Bowden Bowl (1999)
Two of Bowden’s sons, Terry and Tommy, went on to be head coaches. Terry is currently the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe and led Auburn to a perfect season in 1993. After going 12-0 with Tulane in 1998, Tommy became the head coach at Clemson and met ACC opponent Florida State in his first season. It was the first time in Division I-A history where a father and son faced off as opposing head coaches. FSU won the first meeting 17-14, and Bobby held a 5-4 edge in the series.
6. Wire-to-Wire National Champions (1999)
Bowden’s finest team started as the preseason No. 1 and held the top spot for the rest of the season. The Seminoles beat Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title and became the only team in history to go “wire-to-wire,” i.e., holding the Associated Press’ No. 1 spot the entire season.
7. Winningest Coach (2003)
Joe Paterno is the winningest coach in major college football history, but this distinction does not hold the same luster it once did given the way he ended his career at Penn State. Nevertheless, it was a big deal in the 2000s, as Bowden and Paterno traded spots on the leaderboard. Bowden first took the lead on Oct. 25, 2003, with his 339th victory, a 48-24 over Wake Forest.
8. Seminole Tribe of Florida Bobby Bowden Student-Athlete of the Year Award (2004)
There are statues of Bowden at both Florida State and Samford, and he has numerous awards named after him. However, I imagine he was proudest of the award given in his honor by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to football players for achievements on the field, in class, and in the community. Started in 2004, the Seminole Tribe of Florida became the sponsor of the award in 2013, and it is given each year.
9. Final Game (2010)
Bowden announced his retirement following the 2009 regular season, so the 2010 Gator Bowl was his final game. Fittingly, the Seminoles played West Virginia and pulled away in the fourth quarter to give the coach a 33-21 victory to end his career. Bowden’s bowl record was 22-10-1, and his .682 bowl winning percentage is the best for coaches with at least 20 bowl games. His 377 career wins are second only to Joe Paterno in college football history.
10. A Powerhouse (2013)
Perhaps the greatest testament to Bowden’s contribution to Florida State is the national championship it won after he retired. Jimbo Fisher took over a strong program in 2010 and built one of the best teams in college football history. Led by Jameis Winston in 2013, the Seminoles went 14-0 and beat their opponents by an average of nearly 40 points per game en route to the national championship. While the program has struggled in the past few seasons, Bowden turned it into a top-flight coaching destination.