When West Virginia and Florida State play in this year’s Gator Bowl, it will be a reunion of sorts for Seminoles' head coach Bobby Bowden.
Bowden coached six seasons at West Virginia in the early- to mid-1970s.
Following a West Virginia victory in the 1975 Peach Bowl, Bowden accepted the coaching job at Florida State and never left.
However, I would like to forever put to rest a fallacy that has been wrongly perpetuated over these many years.
Yes, Coach Bowden was hanged in effigy during his time in Morgantown, but that is certainly not the reason he left.
The coach left West Virginia not because he was run out of town; the man left because of his roots.
That is not to say that Bowden’s time in Morgantown was all roses and sunshine.
In 1970, Bowden’s Mountaineers lost to Pittsburgh by a final score of 36-35, despite the fact they were leading 35-8 at the half.
Needless to say, the Mountaineer fans did not react favorably to the loss.
Coach Bowden has never forgotten that game.
“I’ve got 56 years of coaching,” Bowden observed, in a recent interview with West Virginia MetroNews, “and that’s still the blackest day of my career.”
In fact, Bowden has often been criticized for running up the score in football games. It is the memory of that day that explains his reasoning.
“You never heard of me sitting on the ball again after that, did you? You’re dad gum right!” Bowden exclaimed. “I learned that in 1970, in Pittsburgh.”
In his final season at West Virginia University, Bowden’s Mountaineers were 9-3.
“At West Virginia, when you lost, you had the whole state mad at you. When you won, you had the whole state happy.”
With his victory over Lou Holtz and his North Carolina State squad in the Peach Bowl, Mountaineer fans loved Coach Bowden.
In fact, they were understandably upset when he left.
On a personal note: When people say that Mountaineer fans need to get over their hatred of former coach Rich Rodriguez, I immediately think of Coach Bowden.
Bowden left Morgantown in 1975, and it has taken me almost 40 years to get over his departure.
West Virginians don’t handle rejection well; in Rodriguez’s case, they handle lies, deceit, and betrayal even worse!
I say these things to illustrate the feelings that West Virginia fans had regarding Coach Bowden’s decision to go to Tallahassee. Nobody in Morgantown wanted him to leave at that time.
Moreover, if you don’t believe me, perhaps you will believe Coach Bowden.
“You ask where my children are from, and they will say West Virginia,” Bowden said. “I came to Florida State to get back home, to get back in the Deep South. I was going to come to Florida State, try to build something, and then go back to Alabama.”
Despite having opportunities to take the head coaching vacancies at Alabama and Auburn, Bowden chose to remain at Florida State because of the success he was enjoying and the program he had built.
This will be the third time that West Virginia and Florida State have met in the Gator Bowl. The Mountaineers have never beaten them.
Despite my nearly 40-year grudge against Bowden, I have always thought he was one of the most likable coaches in the profession. Moreover, as a West Virginian, I always respected him for the things he did for Marshall University following their tragic 1970 plane crash.
I wish the man nothing but the best in retirement.
However, I remember that Paul “Bear” Bryant did not live long after his stepping down at Alabama. I fear that retirement from a profession that has been Bowden’s life for 56 years might result in a quick passing for him as well.
I hope I am wrong.
With the coming of his football game and the advent of the Christmas season, I am willing to finally bury the hatchet on any hard feelings toward Coach Bobby Bowden.
But only if West Virginia wins!