Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Final Day of an Extraordinary Career; Fans, Former Players Wanted to Be Part of Bowden's Historic Day

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Final Day of an Extraordinary Career; Fans, Former Players Wanted to Be Part of Bowden's Historic Day

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

Fans started pressing against the barricades that lined the sidewalk between Adams Street and Jacksonville Municipal Stadium two hours before Bobby Bowden and the rest of the Florida State football team were supposed to arrive for Friday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

They stood in the cold, many with signs and painted faces streaked by a persistent rain. Although it was ugly and dark, nobody complained.

The walk proved to be some of the most difficult steps of the day for Bowden, who also walked away from the sidelines after a 33-21 victory over West Virginia. After giving the Seminoles the last 34 years of his coaching life, the combination of rain and the overwhelming response to his forced retirement seemed to drain the 80-year-old man before his final game.

He clutched wife Ann's hand as he led his team to battle one more time, carving his way through the middle of thousands of appreciative and adoring fans. He didn't smile much because he had to find his way through the maze of people and emotions - and because each step took him closer to his final game.

More than 300 former players, some of them grayed, potbellied and unrecognizable, joined in the walk, ahough they were supposed to wait for Bowden at the front gates. As the people who were affected most by Bowden's legacy, they instead wandered into the rain to share more of the moment with their coach.

"I couldn't miss this," said Keith Ross, a kick return specialist who played for Bowden 21 years ago. "This is a happy day. This is a sad day. I'm glad we get to see coach again. I'm sad it has to end. But like everything else, nothing lasts forever."

Friends and family members of the coaching staff were waiting at the doors that led into the stadium. One man from the family group jumped the barricade and hugged Bowden, only to disappear just as quickly into the rain.

When Bowden stepped onto the field 90 minutes before kickoff, he was engulfed by nearly 50 photographers. He stood at midfield amid a blinding shower of camera flashes, unable to watch his team warm up. Security and police eventually stepped in and threatened to confiscate cameras. …

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