Hyde: Bobby Bowden shows us how to act right to the end | Commentary

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One day in his office, somewhere in his closing years as Florida State’s football coach, Bobby Bowden leaned back in the chair and pondered the concept of retirement with a thought often on his mind.

“There’s only one event left when you retire,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to that.”

He seemed to change that by Wednesday’s announcement of his terminal illness. The great ones always adapt, don’t they? Bowden adapted from entering with a dream at Florida State to becoming an annual powerhouse, adapted from a young coach working with kids in the 1970s to a legend coaching their sons in the new millennium.

Now he’s adapted from worrying about retiring — he never wanted to retire, because he saw Alabama’s Bear Bryant die quickly after retiring — to sounding at peace with his final event. He even used that word.

“I am at peace,” Bowden, 91, said to close his Wednesday statement.

There’s even purpose to his final steps, it seems. America’s Grandpa, as he was on the sideline in his final years, is showing everyone how to leave with the dignity and grace and genuineness of character that defined his full career. Bobby always was dad-gum Bobby that way, wasn’t he?

He won as much as anyone, but also taught people how to lose, joking after one of his crushing Wide-Right field-goal losses to the University of Miami that he knew what his tombstone would read.

“It’ll say, ‘But he played Miami,’” he said.

He also taught everyone how to believe in youth even as he aged, dismissing players at Florida State for one reason: Lying to him. All else could be handled.

“Why does everyone want to run off a 19- or 20-year-old kid rather than trying to help him?” Bowden said. “Do you think they should be anywhere else than here at this age?”

He taught people how to love a good life, too. He was passionate. He took chances. He dreamed big. He put Florida State on the map, but even at the height of his fame his phone number was listed — it’s listed right now, if you care to look.

The first thing it seems everyone wonders about coaches now is who’s legit. Take Urban Meyer. He’s a great football coach. But legit? The wake he left at Florida and Ohio State make you wonder. That’s just one name.

Bowden sat in one place for decades, the wins piling up, the career reaching his high hopes — and he never lost the corn-pone optimism or belief in people. He’d take on players and troubles — even as others wouldn’t. He’d have open locker rooms and “Sundays With Bobby” for the media — even as others shut themselves off from the media.

He’d say, “Shucks,” and “Dad-gum” and talk of his relationship with God in a manner some thought was a phony act. But it’s some acting job, considering the Bobby of 34 years at Florida State sounded like the Bobby again in Wednesday’s sad statement.

“I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” Bowden said. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”

Thirty-nine words. Three sentences. Bobby has never sounded more concise or serious. But what more needed to be said?

The end must be near for him to release that statement. His public end came in 2009 at Florida State. A couple of years ago I asked what he remembered about his last game — and he surprised me with the answer.

“The thing I remember most about my last game is thinking, ‘I don’t want it to be my last game,’” he said. “I didn’t want to retire. I wanted one more year. That’s all I wanted. I wanted one more year. I knew I was getting old and would be having to retire.

“But I knew we had a good ball club coming back and wanted to go out that way. It was a good team, too. They won 10 games that year. That’s the year I wanted to go out on.”

He thought that was an unnecessary slap in his face for the school’s leaders not to give him one more year considering what he did beyond football for the larger university.

He’s not going out on his terms again. Who does? But he’s at peace. The coach is still coaching how to do it. And everyone should be rooting for him just like they did his teams to keep that peace to the end.

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