Bobby Bowden created a lifetime of memories for FSU and college football fans
football Edit

Clark: Rest in peace, Coach ... Thank you for everything!

I don't even know where to start with this one. So, I'm just going to begin typing and see where it goes.

I first met Bobby Bowden when I was 8 years old. He was speaking at the Atlanta Seminole Booster Club and my dad, a Florida State alum, took his sports-loving, floppy-haired son to the event to hear all about the upcoming 1984 season.

There are two things I remember about that night: Hearing for the first time in my life a roomful of people explode in laughter. Because, you know, Bowden. And then later in the evening, after the speech, my dad telling me to go up to the dais and ask if I could have the cloth sign hanging in front of it that read something like, "1984 Atlanta Seminole Booster Kickoff Dinner."

His point was they aren't going to use it again. It will probably get thrown away.

My counterpoint was, "Hey man, I'm 8. This seems like more of an adult request."

Bobby Bowden created a lifetime of memories for Florida State and college football fans everywhere.
Bobby Bowden created a lifetime of memories for Florida State and college football fans everywhere. (Associated Press)

Anyway. As was often the case, my dad wound up winning the debate and off I went.

I approached the podium, all decked out in my Seminole gear (I think I was wearing a No. 12 FSU jersey -- shout out to Kelly Lowrey!) and asked one of the organizers if I could have the sign. Bowden was sitting right next to him and got a genuine laugh out of such an odd request from a small kid.

Alas, I was shot down, but I made the famous man chuckle and shake his head, and that was pretty thrilling for a third-grader.

As he was leaving that night, Bowden saw me and my dad by the door and walked up and put his arm around me and said, "I can't believe they wouldn't give it to you, partner. You be good now, you hear?"

And he walked into the night.

Over the next 30-plus years, I was lucky enough to have a lot more interactions with Bowden. But today I just can't shake this memory of him and my dad smiling at me that night in Atlanta in 1984. Two adults and a kid sharing a small moment of joy, none of us having any idea what Florida State Football was about to become.

Where does the time go?

How can it be 37 years since that night?

How can that be?

My dad passed away in 2011 at the age of 69. His all-time favorite coach passed away today. At the age of 91.

And in my mind, and I bet this goes for more than a few of you reading this, my father and Bobby Bowden are inextricably linked together when I'm thinking about the best memories of my childhood.

One was the most important man in my life. The other was the man who gave me and my dad so many wonderful memories together that 1,000 columns couldn't thank him enough.

I was 12 when the Dynasty started. Think about that.

Could there be a better age to be when the team you were born into becomes a dominant force?

I was 13 for the Puntrooskie. And I was there. LeRoy Butler was running right toward us in the end zone at Clemson that rainy afternoon.

I was there in Doak Campbell Stadium in 1989 when the Seminoles beat Auburn and Miami on back-to-back weekends. I was the one who pointed out to my dad that Dexter Carter had just dropped a penalty flag on Bernard Clark's head.

I was there at the Big House in Ann Arbor in 1991 when T-Buck started it off with the pick-6 and FSU dropped 51 on the the Wolverines.

I was there in 1992 for a whole bunch of those Ward interceptions and incredible comebacks.

And I was there in 1993 when Bentley made the kick, Nebraska missed, and we finally ... finally got to celebrate a national championship together.

I was 18 then. A "man" by the technical definition anyway.

But in reality, I was just a son. Hugging his father. With all the memories of the previous decade -- games won, games lost, and those countless conversations about our favorite team -- flooding over both of us as we came to grips that we (yes, we!) were national champions.

That hug lasted a long, long time.

We had seen some great Saturdays and some impossibly tough ones together (looking at you, Wide Rights!), but the most important thing, especially in hindsight, was that we were always together.

Florida State Football was great during the Dynasty. But man, some of those losses were just soul-crushing. Especially for a kid! My dad always made me laugh afterward, though. Always tried to find the positive. Always made me realize how lucky I was, even after a missed field goal, to cheer for the program I got to cheer for.

Mainly because of the man who built it.

I was never as close to my dad as when we were watching a Florida State football game. That was our time. We'd talk about the game all week, we'd talk even more on the drive down from Atlanta, and then we'd high-five and scream and chop for three hours as they (usually) won yet again.

These are the moments Bobby Bowden gave us.

That aforementioned hug in Miami on Jan. 1, 1994. That was because of Bobby Bowden. The thousands of hours -- and I'm not overestimating here -- we spent either talking about or watching Florida State Football were because of Bobby Bowden.

I used to wonder what our relationship would have been like if my dad had graduated from, say, South Carolina. Or Maryland. Or some other school that has always been mediocre at the sport. Would we have still spent so much time together? Would I still love college football? Would I be doing this job?

I have no idea. But I'm certainly skeptical.

Bobby Bowden gave me my love for this sport. I sincerely believe that. And it's not just because his teams were so good and so fun to watch.

What separates Bowden in my opinion from every other legendary coach that's ever been is that he was so dadgum funny. And nice. And approachable.

He was just a genuinely sweet person. He always smiled, always called you, "Buddy," always made you feel like you mattered.

Alabama fans are loving life right now. Sure. And I'm sure they love their coach. Just like Florida fans in the '90s loved their coach. And Oklahoma fans in the 1980s loved theirs.

The difference is, in my opinion, is Florida State fans loved their coach not just because of what he did on the football field, but because of who he was off of it.

That's the line of demarcation.

Think of all the great college football coaches in history: Bryant, Wilkinson, Rockne, Paterno, Osborne, Meyer, Spurrier, Saban, Bowden. Which one of those is not like the other?

Bowden proved you could win, and still be a human being. He wasn't a robot. He wasn't a jerk. He was hysterically funny and a sweet, sympathetic man.

He showed you could win -- and win big -- and still have a personality. Still sign autographs and take pictures and shake hands and ... and sometimes even try to help an 8-year-old steal a sign.

What Bobby Bowden did will never, ever, ever be forgotten.

He's the reason I'm here. He's the reason you're reading this.

He's the reason my childhood is filled with so many wonderful, postcard-like memories of my father.

When my dad first fell in love with Florida State Football, he could have never imagined that he'd one day be cheering for a dynasty. And that he'd get to hug his son, in an emotional embrace, one night in Miami after his beloved Seminoles won a national championship.

Or that later, that same son would end up one day covering that program as a sportswriter.

But that's exactly what happened.

And it's all -- and I mean all -- because of Robert Cleckler Bowden.

Thank you, Coach. For everything.

Contact senior writer Corey Clark at corey@warchant.com and follow @Corey_Clark on Twitter.

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