February 19 2010

Donrey News Service article
September 27, 1991

Florida State coach finds stadium to be a huge pulpit

by Carey Kinsolving

Coach Bobby Bowden of the No. 1 ranked Florida State Seminoles faced the huge challenge of No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, with a possible national title on the line. So how did he spend the weekend before?

Witnessing for Jesus.

The Seminoles were idle so Bowden flew to West Virginia to speak to a group of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“I don’t have any more business flying up there than the man in the moon,” Bowden said, acknowledging something even higher was motivating him. “I’ve got to catch a plane, land in between those mountains up there, which scares me to death, drive for two hours, make my talk and fly back here in time to be on TV Saturday night.”

On Sunday, Bowden preached – he prefers to say, “I just talk” – at a Methodist church. And he talked to a journalist about his priorities in life.

“Football stadiums are the biggest pulpits there are,” he said. “Christ has done so much for me, the least I can do is witness for him.”

Bowden fell in love with both God and football early in life. When he was 4, his dad took him up on their roof to watch high school football practice across the street. When Bowden was 10, he said, he “trusted Jesus as Savior.”

Now he belongs to the First Baptist Church in Tallahassee but rarely attends because of speaking engagements at other churches.

“Sometimes I speak three times on a Sunday. I don’t go ask people ‘Can I speak to your church?’ but I don’t turn down invitations. I feel like God has given me everything, and I’ve got to give him something back.”

Bowden, no Sunday Christian, said he tries to instill that same “giving back” attitude into his players. He said he prays with his players and brings in special speakers to help mold their spiritual lives.

“I look at this as an important part of their education,” he said.

Heisman Trophy prospect quarterback Casey Welden, fullback Edgar Bennet and Matt Friar are three of several committed Christians on Bowden’s team.

Although the Associated Press poll ranks the Seminoles No. 1, Bowden relegates football to No. 4 in his life. God, country and family come before football. “If winning is your top priority, you’re in for a tough career. Nobody is going to win them all.

“Football is a way God has given me to feed my family, pay my debts and witness for Jesus Christ. I’m going to do my best to win along the way.”

Bowden hasn’t always won. After four consecutive winning seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers posted a 4-7 record. Bowden took his children to campus only to see himself hung in effigy. “See Daddy up there in the tree,” he told them.

During such bleak days, a West Virginia friend offered encouragement with a statement that now serves as a motto for Bowden. “The best steel goes through the hottest fire.”

“God was putting me through ‘the hottest fire’ to make me what he wanted me to be,” Bowden said. “I never lost faith in him and continually prayed and searched the scriptures for strength not to fail. God delivered me.”

In spite of seeing both good times and bad, three of Bowden’s sons are college football coaches. So every Saturday during the fall, Ann Bowden, Bobby Bowden’s wife of 42 years, agonizes over four football games.

She won’t go to sleep until she finds out how everyone has done, Bobby Bowden said. This season Ann Bowden has had sweet dreams. The Bowden clan is 12-1 for the season.