The best part of writing sports in Florida back in the 1980s and getting to cover any part of the rise of Florida State football actually happened the day after home games. That’s when, no matter how badly you may have wanted to get out of the panhandle and get home, you stayed for “Breakfast with Bobby.” Because there was always an irresistible catered spread of dadgumits, football homilies and quaint good humor that sometimes even made for a usable story. Any actual news value was a bonus.

ExploreBobby Bowden dead at 91

Win or lose — mostly win — FSU coach Bobby Bowden held these informal summits, where the mood was as relaxed as a Sunday brunch with family. In them, Bowden always flexed his greatest strength — even beyond the penchant for the trick play or the combined might of ever-accumulating wins (which hit 377 for a career). That being his undisguised humanity.

The last of the great Southern personalities in the college coaching business has died, Bowden succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of 91 this weekend. Hard to imagine in the landscape of the game today — where coaches keep to their rigid message and a game grows so corporate it should be listed on the Dow — another like him passing this way again. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is as close as exists these days, and he’s an incomplete knock-off.

The world is pausing to recognize Bowden today because he is DI’s second-winningest coach ever and he transformed FSU from football afterthought into a power. This makes him a giant in the game, every bit in the mold of Rockne, Paterno and, yes, even Bowden’s own coaching hero, Bryant. Still, I tend to remember the man in warm generalities, not by strict numbers.

Bowden could turn almost situation into a reason to smile. At a previous stop at West Virginia, they once hung Bowden in effigy after a losing season. And he later would joke about telling his one of his boys, “OK, son, go cut Daddy down now.”

At FSU, Bowden’s personality shown even brighter for the fact he followed a sphinx named Darrell Mudra, who went 4-18 while coaching from the press box. The Seminoles program was in tatters when Bowden arrived in 1976. And it was a hard road to respectability — literally. In the 1981 season, the Seminoles played five straight road games against Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Dan Marino’s Pitt and LSU. And won three of them.

Sometimes field goals against Miami sailed wide right. But enough went otherwise right — as in proper — for Bowden to claim two national titles. He won at least 10 games over 14 consecutive seasons. If all goes well for Nick Saban at Alabama this season, he’ll tie that mark. So, keep working at it, kid.

Bowden’s tenure wasn’t always as pure as blackstrap molasses. Recall Florida’s Steve Spurrier renaming FSU “Free Shoes U” after one of a couple improper benefit affairs stuck to Bowden’s program. The NCAA vacated 12 of Bowden’s victories following an academic fraud scandal spread throughout FSU athletics. And he was openly angered when FSU forced him out in 2009, after it was clear he had lost his fastball, losing an average of five games in his final five seasons.

But, on this day, all anyone wants to recall is Bowden’s unrelenting charm offense. As when once a star receiver was caught up in a serious theft scheme and Bowden told the media, “I’m praying for a misdemeanor.” That’s just another punchline now. You treat life with perspective and people with respect, you tend to get the benefit of the doubt all the way to the grave.

Muse here on one of Bowden’s famous former players — Deion Sanders — and the umbrage he took recently when a media member dared address him as “Deion” rather than “Coach Sanders,” walking out on an interview. Coach Prime might do well to recall Bowden’s example. It was always “Breakfast with Bobby.” Not “Breakfast with the Exalted Coach Bowden.”

Another of his former players, and another former Falcon who now even owns a sliver of the team — running back Warrick Dunn — is a living legacy to Bowden’s influence. Raised in a single-family home, Dunn came to FSU shortly after the death of his mother. Bowden took up a more supportive role for the young back. “It wasn’t just a love of football that drove our relationship. It was a love for each other,” Dunn once said of his coach. Dunn’s own devotion to charity is a partial reflection of Bowden’s gravitational pull.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia head coach Mark Richt (right) played against Bowden's Seminoles as the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes in 1982. He and Bowden would bond later when Richt served as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Credit: AP

Georgia head coach Mark Richt (right) played against Bowden's Seminoles as the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes in 1982. He and Bowden would bond later when Richt served as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia head coach Mark Richt (right) played against Bowden's Seminoles as the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes in 1982. He and Bowden would bond later when Richt served as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Such examples of his good nature are everywhere. Saban Sunday retold the story of Bowden calling him out of the blue when a mere grad assistant coach at Kent State. It was shortly after Saban’s father died, and Bowden was offering him a job back at West Virginia if he felt the need to return home and support his mother. Saban stayed put but always remembered the gesture.

Of course, there’s the tale of former Georgia coach Mark Richt, and how Bowden led him to a Christian awakening while Richt was a grad assistant on the FSU staff. Seems every Bowden story comes with a twist of mirth. At a roast for his mentor, as retold in a recent story in The Athletic, Richt would remember Bowden’s prayer that day beginning: “Dear Lord, I’m here with ... what’s your name again, buddy?”

News of Bowden’s terminal condition broke this summer during the ACC football media gathering, where Richt was working. His reaction then was as it is now — placid acceptance: “I want him to live to 120, I think everybody does but he said it in three words: He’s at peace. He’s at peace because he knows his eternal destiny.”

So, on this sad day, leave it with a little poem Bowden recited at the close of a couple of his hall of fame inductions. In it, “up there,” is, of course, is another name for heaven:

To have your name up there is greater yet by far

then all the Hall of Fames down here at every manmade star.

This crowd on earth they soon forget the heroes of the past.

They cheer like mad until you fall — that's how long you last.

I tell you friend, I would not trade my name however small

if written there beyond the stars in that celestial hall.

For any famous name on Earth a glory that they share:

I'd rather be an unknown here and have my name up there.