SYLACAUGA -- Legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden provided many words of wisdom Thursday evening while serving as guest speaker during Coosa Valley Medical Center's Men’s Health Event at the J. Craig Smith Community Center.
Approximately 450 guests attended the dinner portion of the event, where the NCAA’s all-time leader in wins and bowl victories shared stories from his career patrolling the sidelines and his life off the field.
Bowden, born in 1929, grew up during tumultuous times as the nation struggled through its Great Depression.
“When the Depression hit in 1929, everyone lost their jobs,” Bowden said. “I think about one out of four, or maybe even two out of four people were unemployed.”
As members of his family became affected by the aftershock of the Depression, he recalled those family members coming to stay until they got back on their feet. Bowden had to share his bed with their children.
“I never slept alone until I got married,” Bowden said jokingly as the crowd burst into laughter.
After several family stories, Bowden shifted his focus toward his football career, saying he and his wife wrestled with his decision of whether to move on from West Virginia University to take the offer to coach the Florida State University Seminoles.
“Florida State was losing every game,” Bowden said. “We were winning and going to some bowls (in West Virginia), but they called me and wanted me to come down there. Ann and I didn’t decide until the last minute to take that job at Florida State. It was kind of like, ‘Let’s go home. Let’s go home.’ That was where we were raised — Alabama, South Georgia and Tallahassee, Florida.”
A man of faith, Bowden recommended members of the audience read Proverbs, and pointed out his favorite verse in the book, Proverbs 4:23.
“Keep thy heart with all diligence, because out of it are the issues of life,” Bowden said. “All of the issues of life come from the heart. Did you ever think about that? Now, when the scripture talks about heart or when you hear a coach or someone talk about heart, they’re not talking about a muscle that pumps blood. They’re not talking about that heart. They’re talking about your will — that’s the real you, is your will. I will do it! I will not do it! You’re the one who makes that decision.”
Bowden further defined his statement on heart by associating it with a commonly-used phrase.
“Have you ever heard the expression — I’m sure you have — it’s one you hear all the time: ‘You don’t have it,’ ‘He doesn’t have it’ or ‘She doesn’t have it?’” Bowden said. “What is ‘it?’ We hear that all time. ‘It’ is your heart. It’s you. It’s what you do. It’s what you say. It’s who you are.”
Among the attendees for the event were eight members of the Winterboro High School football team, including right guard Justus Garrett, who said Bowden’s comments made a positive impact on him.
“What he taught me was, instead of ability and how good you are, it’s all about having heart and love for the game,” Garrett said. “I know I have some teammates on my team who think they’re all — I mean they’re good, but they just don’t have the heart for it. I think, from what he told me, I can elaborate to them, and I can encourage them to do their best every time on every play, including in practice.”
Center Jason Geise explained how Bowden’s words will have a lasting impact on him.
“I learned a lot, honestly, just from all the stories that he told us and all the past experiences that he’s given us from his own perspective,” Geise said. “It’s real important, because this can really help you out in the future somehow. It may not be right there in front of you, but one day it’ll come in front of you and help you out when you need it.”
Winterboro football coach Alan Beckett said he was thankful the staff from Coosa Valley Medical Center extended the invitation to his players.
“They blessed us, and I appreciate the opportunity and them thinking of us,” Beckett said. “That was a true blessing for these young people. These are leaders, and these were guys who can go back and spread the news when they go back. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to get to see this guy, because Bobby Bowden is a true ambassador to the game. It’s something that’ll inspire them, and they’ll go back and learn from him.”
Contact Shane Dunaway at firstname.lastname@example.org