Bowden wishes he'd spoken up sooner about his cancer

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NEW YORK -- Bobby Bowden grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and made no secret of the fact that he idolized Alabama coach Bear Bryant.

"I just thought he was everything a coach was supposed to be," said Bowden. "He understood people. He knew how to connect with players of every generation. And he sure as heck knew how to win."

Bowden, who retired with 377 wins and two national titles, says he's cancer-free. (AP)  
Bowden, who retired with 377 wins and two national titles, says he's cancer-free. (AP)  
Bowden also admits to being very cognizant of how it ended for Bryant. In 1982, after 25 years as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, Bryant was in poor health and announced his retirement in mid-December. Just 46 days later, Bryant was dead.

"After watching what happened to Coach Bryant, I really believed that after you retire there is only one big event left," said Bowden. "And I sure wasn't ready for that."

But today, the man who retired with 377 wins and two national championships is happy to report there is life after coaching and that he is successfully getting on with it. Bowden, who turns 82 on Nov. 8, was making a media tour in New York City on Tuesday on behalf of On The Line, a national prostate cancer education initiative. He appeared on ABC's Good Morning America and met with various media outlets to drop this bombshell: In 2007 he was treated for prostate cancer and kept it a secret from everybody but his immediate family.

Once the cancer was discovered, Bowden went at midnight into a Tallahassee hospital, where Dr. Joe Camps, the captain of his first team at Florida State in 1976, planted radioactive seeds in Bowden's prostate. They kept Bowden in a secret location in the hospital, and after his recovery he was discharged at about 5 a.m.

Bowden never told his team or anyone in the Florida State administration. He felt he couldn't risk the news getting out. And he is convinced the news would have eventually leaked. In the hand-to-hand combat that is recruiting in the South, Bowden was already answering questions about his age (77) and how much longer he was going to coach. This news, he said, would have been gold for his opponents out on the recruiting trail.

"I could just hear the recruits being told, 'Don't go to Florida State,' Coach Bowden is dying," said Bowden. "I couldn't let that happen."

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Bowden's son Tommy, a former head coach at Tulane and Clemson, said his father did not give his children many details.

"Daddy was pretty vague about it and if I remember correctly, Momma actually told me the news," said Tommy Bowden, who is now an on-air analyst for Fox Sports South. "Men of Daddy's generation didn't talk about things like that. They kept it to themselves.

"But he was right about the recruiting side of things. Other people will use it against you."

The reality is that while Bowden was able to keep his cancer a secret, it still did not end well for him at Florida State. He was 7-6 in 2007, 9-4 in 2008 and 7-6 in 2009. He wanted to coach one more year because he thought there was enough talent to win a final ACC championship in 2010. After turning Florida State into a national power in his 34 seasons as coach, Bowden thought he had earned one more year. He didn't get it.

Today Bobby Bowden is cancer-free. He has spent the past 18 months traveling and speaking to just about every church, every touchdown club and every corporate group that has asked him. He wanted to stay engaged. He loves golf but he didn't want to play every day. He penned a book, Called To Coach with Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, where he was quite candid about his disappointment of being pushed out the door at Florida State. But he still did not talk about the cancer in the book.

He wishes he had spoken up sooner. Now he has that chance. He wants to use his story encourage other men to get checked regularly. According to recent statistics, one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"If I knew then what I know now I would have gone public with my cancer," said Bowden. "There is simply no reason for men not to get checked. I didn't want to talk to my doctor about it, and that was wrong."

Bowden said he will not attend Saturday night's game between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 Florida State because "I don't want to be a distraction from what Jimbo [Fisher] is doing. But I'll tell you this: Florida State players are just as good as Oklahoma's. And the difference in that game may be that it's played in Tallahassee. I'm going to sit at home and pull like crazy for Florida State."

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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