It was the year 2000 and a book publisher had contacted me about writing a collection of quotes from Florida State University’s Head Coach Bobby Bowden. I agreed on one condition: that I could get the coach’s permission.
It was a tall order. At the time, Bowden was the second-winningest active coach in major college football. I was a business news journalist with no sports page bylines and only two (co-authored) books to my name.
So I did what most reporters did in those days: I borrowed some credibility. In my letter seeking his blessing I told the Coach he knew my father, Buddy Strauss (FSU’s “first football hero,” in Bowden’s own words), and my sister Catherine, a professional photographer who did his family’s semi-annual beach portrait.
The Coach’s return letter came swiftly: I had his permission, as long as it didn’t require any of his time. But the handwritten postscript is what I remember best.
P.S. – It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you included some quotes about my Christian faith.
I recruited my husband Jim for the project since he had near total recall of FSU football. And I spent several months culling through newspaper and magazine archives in the basement of FSU’s Strozier library (pre-Internet days). I photocopied quotes that delighted my writer’s ear and presented them to my husband, who provided context. These were usually accompanied by animated gestures and emotionally charged facial expressions.
“Oh, yeah! I remember that one. FSU had lost to the Gators six straight seasons (1981 through 1986) and Bowden finally beat them.”
Like I said, total recall.
When it came time to assemble the quotes, I faced the question that plagues every book writer: How to arrange the content in a way that serves the reader. In the case of a quote book, that meant subject categories. My question: “Where do quotes related to Bowden’s Christian faith belong?”
I went back to Coach’s letter. It was only a postscript, but anyone who has ever spent time with Bowden had to know that faith and prayer were the secret formula to his success.
As our preface noted:
At a time when it’s not only politically incorrect, but outlawed in many public places, Bowden leads his team in prayer before and after football games. A Bowden signature is his willingness and ability to shape players for life beyond the football field by teaching them life-coping skills and values.
We knew any quotes about Coach Bowden’s faith needed to be weaved throughout the book, so that’s what we did. And we also gave Faith as a stand-alone category.
To honor the memory of our beloved Coach Bobby Bowden, who died Sunday, August 8, 2021, I asked my co-author husband Jim to choose a handful of his favorite quotes from, “The Book of Bowden: Words of Wisdom, Faith & Motivation by and about Bobby Bowden, College Football’s Most Inspirational Coach.”
“Well, they’re pickin’ us No. 1 to start the season. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the same people picked us No. 1 in 1988. That was the year we stayed in contention all the way until the kickoff of the first game.”
—Miami beat FSU, 31-0, in that 1988 opener
“Gator fans have tried their hardest to hate Bowden . . . But it has become an impossible task . . . Getting whipped by Bowden is like getting beat by Uncle Morty in a game of checkers. Morty talks your ear off, tells you a few jokes, gives you a wink, and triple jumps you to win the game.”
—Mike Bianchi, Gainesville Sun sports columnist
“I’m gonna tell my kids there are just sixty thousand up there. They won’t have time to count.”
—Bowden, referring to the 105,000 screaming Michigan fans for a 1991 game
And one that I think anyone can relate to:
“Character is so important to the type of young men we’re trying to bring along. And don’t confuse reputation with character. Reputation is something that’s seen; character is being. Reputation is your photograph; character is your face. Reputation is something you manufacture; character is grown. Reputation is something you have when you come to town; character is what you have when you leave town. Reputation is what man says about you; character is what God knows about you.”
This year is the 20th anniversary of the first edition of that book and we continue to credit that collaborative project for strengthening our faith and our marriage.
Thank you, Coach Bowden, for your wisdom that is truly timeless; the legacy you left is without bounds.
[Author’s postscript: Perhaps just as significant as getting Bobby Bowden to agree to the book was getting Burt Reynolds to write the Foreword.]