As a diehard Florida Gators fan I grew up pulling against Bobby Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles. To me, the perfect weekend included a Florida win and a Florida State loss. I used to hear that Coach Bowden was a Christian. But to be quite honest, in my mind it was hard to accept that someone could be both a Christian and a Seminole. It seemed that the latter meant he was living in sin.
In all seriousness, it was always hard not to like Bobby Bowden. He was the epitome of class on the sidelines, and he graciously handled his termination from FSU (he has more wins than any other major college football coach, and he coached on a field that was named after him; how can you fire a living legend?).
A few years ago Georgia coach Mark Richt told me about his salvation; he confirmed the rumor that I had heard. A football player at FSU was murdered during a bye week, and Bowden took the opportunity to tell his players that they needed to be right with God because their moment could come any minute. Richt, who was an assistant at FSU at the time, went into Bowden’s office and gave his heart to Christ.
Coach Bowden will be preaching for us here in January, so I read his book Called to Coach to see what he is really about. I have to say, even as a Gator, I am very impressed. Throughout his coaching career Bowden would have devotions with his team on the night before each game. Here is how he described them:
“I would talk to them about how to become a Christian and how you become saved. Some may say I didn’t have the right to do it, but I would much rather be spiritually correct than politically correct.”
He went on to say that if he were told to stop talking about Christ in front of his players then he would have gone “underground” and done it anyway. The book is not only an autobiography (complete with pre-game speeches and scores from his 5+-decade career), it is also a treatise about the faith of Bobby Bowden.
As the name of the book suggests, Bowden feels like God called him to coach, much as He calls others to preach or be missionaries. When Bowden was a boy, there was a time when he was sick and was presumed to be dying. He promised God that if He healed him, then he would serve God for the rest of his life.
And he has.