Surrounded by his wife, all six of their children, many of their 21 grandchildren and several hundred admirers, football coach Bobby Bowden reluctantly allowed Florida State University to honor him Friday, as the school unveiled a 9-foot bronze statue of him in front of its new athletic center.
"I've always been an admirer of statues," Bowden told the crowd after he and family members removed a cloth that had covered the statue. "I've traveled all over the country, I've traveled to Europe seein' Patton's statue, seein' Stonewall's and seein' Abraham Lincoln's. I noticed they were all dead. So, I was kind of reluctant about this thing. But, anyway, I went ahead and took a chance and I made it.
"I'm not ready to hang it up yet. I ain't ready."
The event, which featured FSU cheerleaders and members of the Marching Chiefs, lent a festive atmosphere to Bowden Bowl VI weekend, which will hit a fevered pitch at 3:30 this afternoon, when Bobby Bowden's eighth-ranked Florida State Seminoles face the Clemson Tigers, who are coached by his third-eldest son, Tommy Bowden.
After initially saying that he would have to miss the ceremony to attend to team activities, Tommy Bowden attended the unveiling. Bowden, who focuses primarily on the Clemson offense, exchanged a warm handshake and hello with FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews after the event ended.
"I had not planned on coming because we run a pretty tight schedule," Tommy said. "I'm glad I did, because it was either this or take a nap."
In 1974, when he played for his father at West Virginia and the Mountaineers were struggling, Tommy encountered another likeness of Bobby Bowden. His father had been hanged in effigy by angry Mountaineers fans, and Tommy and teammate (and eventual FSU strength coach Dave Van Halanger) took the dummy out of a tree.
On Friday, those difficult days seemed far more in the past than 30 years.
Steve Bowden, Bobby and Ann's second-eldest child, his hair now a silvery white, spoke to the crowd for 10 minutes before the grand unveiling and, in an often humorous speech, paid tribute to his parents. He recalled how his father taught him and his brothers how to ride bikes and how his father purchased clippers and gave all the Bowden boys haircuts once a month.
"We owe him gratitude for being a simple man, and that he is," Steve said. "Harvard has not yet gone and offered him that dadgum professor of English grammar. But his simplicity is not by defect. It is by design.
"We're grateful to him for having chosen well in marriage. The woman who, believe me, has walked stride for stride with him for over half a century has never been able to make him a good coach. But she knew what it took to let him be a good coach, and that is much more difficult and much more important."
The statue, which sits atop a 5-foot pedestal, features Bobby Bowden without his trademark potbelly, his sleeveless right arm pointing forward and a headset in his left hand. Pat and Pam Roberts commissioned and bankrolled the statute, which was sculpted by artist Sandy Proctor. The school will sell busts of Bowden, with Doak Campbell Stadium in the background, and proceeds will go to an endowed scholarship in Bowden's name.
Steve Bowden joked that the statue also will give a convenient perch and, alas, an inviting target for pigeons.
The ceremony lightened the atmosphere surrounding this year's Bowden Bowl. On Sept. 5, the ex-husband and 15-year-old son of Bobby and Ann Bowden's youngest daughter, Ginger Madden, died in a car accident along rain-slicked Interstate 10 as they headed west from Tallahassee toward Fort Walton Beach. The family has been grieving since.
Ginger attended the ceremony and for a brief time the button she wore with the picture of her late son, Bowden Madden, was the only reminder of the tragedy.
She even smiled as she spoke when she was asked whether she roots for Clemson or for Florida State.
"I root for Florida State to score every time and for Clemson to turn it over every time," she said. "We all root for Florida State, except for those who get paid by Clemson."
For a few minutes on Friday, the Bowden family could talk and think about happier things.
CLEMSON AT NO. 8 FLORIDA STATE
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee.
TV: 10 25. Radio: WAXY (790-AM), WFTL (850-AM), WSRF (1580-AM).
Records: Clemson 1-2, 1-1 ACC; Florida State 1-1, 0-1.
Coaches: Tommy Bowden is 39-26 in his sixth season at Clemson and 57-30 in eight seasons overall. Bobby Bowden is 270-68-4 in his 29th season at Florida State and 343-100-4 in 39 seasons overall.
Series: Florida State leads 14-3.
Latest line: Florida State by 171/2.
Injuries: Clemson -- DT Vontrell Jamison (Achilles') and FS Roy Walker (knee) are out. FSU -- G Matt Meinrod (knee) and backup FB Chad Canfield (concussions) are out.
When Clemson has the ball: Charlie Whitehurst has thrown seven interceptions. Part of the problem is that he's working behind an offensive line that's inexperienced in spots and that the running game is struggling. Whitehurst also has been sacked seven times. Tommy Bowden hasn't named a starting tailback for this game, but Yusef Kelly is slated to return this week after missing last weekend's game against Texas A&M; because of a suspension for a team-rules violation. WR Airese Currie is a speedster, and he leads the ACC in receptions per game and receiving yards per game.
When Florida State has the ball: With Chris Rix playing unevenly so far this season, the 'Noles haven't thrown a touchdown pass this season, but the return of G Bobby Meeks and C David Castillo last week helped get the running game on track, and Castillo should start today. Florida State coaches would love to get RBs Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker the ball as often as possible, either on runs or on low-risk swing passes. The Clemson defense has been a disappointment, especially the run defense, which is giving up 230.0 yards on the ground a game.
Extra points: Clemson defeated FSU 26-10 last Nov. 8 to knock the Seminoles out of the national-title hunt. Whitehurst threw for 272 yards in that game, while FSU ran for an abysmal 11 yards on 17 carries. ... Bobby Bowden has won four of the five Bowden Bowls. ... The Tigers allowed two backs to rush for more than 100 yards last week. That's the first time that's happened since 1996.