The college football world lost a legend as Bobby Bowden, the man who led Florida State to national prominence as the second-winningest coach in Division I history, died over the weekend at age 91. Bowden wasn't just a College Football Hall of Fame coach who reigned over an era of the game, he was one of the greatest to ever throw a whistle around his neck.
Bowden's impact on the game, a region and society as a whole will last generations. His connections with his players, his folksy attitude, and his dedication to success was unmatched in college football for nearly five decades at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State. Bowden retired with a 377-129-4 career coaching record.
So much happened during his run, particularly at Florida State, that it's tough to put it all into context. So, let's run down some of Bowden's biggest accomplishments during his legendary career.
Breakthrough: 1993 national championship
The first of Bowden's two national titles came in 1993, Florida State's second season in the ACC. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward at quarterback, the Seminoles cruised to an 8-0 conference record and five wins over top-20 teams. Their only blemish came against No. 2 Notre Dame on Nov. 13, when they fell 31-24 in South Bend, Indiana. Still, Florida State made ended the season against Nebraska with a national championship potentially up for grabs. Scott Bentley hit a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left, and Nebraska's Byron Bennett pulled a potential game-winning field goal wide left with 1 second remaining to give Florida State an 18-16 win the Orange Bowl, a win that resulted in the program's first national title.
Perfect season: 1999 national championship
Bowden's second national title came six years later when he led Florida State to a 12-0 (8-0 ACC) record including a win over Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. The Hokies moved up and down the field, taking a 29-28 lead into the fourth quarter. However, Florida State -- led by quarterback Chris Weinke and star wide receiver/returner Peter Warrick -- reeled off 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points to earn a 46-29 victory and take the BCS National Championship.
Becoming an all-time winner
Bowden and former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had quite the battle over the final two decades of their coaching careers vying for the designation of college football's all-time winningest coach. Paterno finished his career with 409 wins with Bowden at 377. The NCAA vacated 111 of Paterno's wins as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which temporarily put Bowden atop the list, but those wins were restored in 2015, bumping Bowden back down to second. That was perfectly fine with the Seminoles' coach.
"I'm glad for him. I was self-conscious about that anyway," Bowden said. "Every time I would speak, they would say, 'He's the winningest coach in I-A history.' I'd say, 'Yeah, after they took 100 away from Joe.'"
Excelling with 14 consecutive top fives
The 5-6 record Bowden posted in his first season at Florida State in 1976 was the last sub-.500 effort he'd have as a coach (excluding seasons with vacated wins). That's 33 straight seasons above .500. His 14-year run from 1987-2000 finishing 1-5 in the AP Top 25 is twice as long as the the second-longest streak in college football history. USC (2002-08), Miami (1986-92) and Oklahoma (1952-58) each had seven straight top five seasons.
Capturing 12 ACC titles
Bowden led FSU's transition from independent program to ACC member in 1992, and the program didn't miss a beat. The Seminoles won their first 29 games and 47 of their first 48 games as a member of their new conference. That run included six conference titles and the 1993 national championship. Not bad for the "new kid on the block." The Seminoles won 12 conference titles over their first 14 seasons in the league, and Bowden posted a 105-27 overall conference record.
Appearing in 28 straight bowl games
Bowl games aren't exactly hard to come by in this day and age, but that wasn't the case during Bowden's early years. Florida State went to 28 straight bowl games from 1982-2009, and Bowden himself went 21-10-1 all-time in postseason appearances.
Welcoming anyone, anytime, anywhere
Bowden led West Virginia to a 42-26 record from 1970-75 before taking the job in Tallahassee, Florida. It wasn't necessarily a step up. Many didn't even think that it was a lateral move. After all, the Seminoles had won four total games over the previous three seasons and were struggling to find their place as an independent in a rapidly-evolving landscape.
Florida State didn't have a home when Bowden took over. It was an independent that had to get creative with scheduling in order to ascend to the top of college football. Bowden and the Seminoles took on all-comers -- most of the time away from Tallahassee. They played at LSU over five straight seasons, at Nebraska four times, at Pittsburgh three times and at Auburn five times. They went on a five-game road swing in 1981 at No. 17 Nebraska, No. 7 Ohio State, Notre Dame, No. 3 Pittsburgh and LSU. There isn't a team in America that would willingly run through that gauntlet in this day and age.
Ending Florida's home winning streak
Steve Spurrier took over at Florida in 1990, and all of a sudden, the battle for power in the Sunshine State was a three horse race including Florida, Florida State and Miami. The Gators had things cooking with a 23-game home winning streak under Spurrier, but that all changed on Nov. 27, 1993. Ward and the Noles went up 20-0 on the home standing Gators, adding a 79-yard touchdown pass from Ward to Warrick Dunn to hang on to a 33-21 win -- tipping the scales of statewide dominance. Florida would bounce back with Spurrier and Bowden battling epically over the remainder of their careers. The programs tied 31-31 the next season with Bowden holding a 7-5 edge over Spurrier over their final 12 meetings until Spurrier left for the NFL.
Bowden's football success speaks for itself, but he'd likely tell you in a quiet moment that he is most proud of the connections that he made with his players, their families, the community and society as a whole. He took pride in helping others. Ward told SiriusXM on Sunday that the two of them agreed to have Dunn live with Ward during Dunn's freshman season. Dunn's mother, a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was killed in the line of duty before he enrolled at Florida State. At a crossroads, Bowden and Ward made it a point to take Dunn under their wing and point him in the right direction. It worked. Dunn won the 2004 Walter Peyton NFL Man of the Year Award for his charitable work around the country, and he remains one of the most philanthropic professional athletes in the country after retirement.
That is just one of countless stories recounting the impact Bowden had on college athletes.