Grandpa, always classy and kind, deserved to leave us with more dignity. He requested just a touch of respect at the end. Pleaded for it, in his own humble way. The family fortune? He built that, from nothing. The family name? He not only made it matter but made it his life’s work to represent it with uncommon grace.
Could he just hand over the family business on his own terms at the end?
Sorry, Grandpa. We don’t have time for your old-fashioned values around here. Decency? Dignity? Grace? Where is the spot for those on the scoreboard? Shuffle along, old man. We’ll keep what you built, the fortune and the name, but the rest of you is going to have to get on up out of here. Cold? Hey, old-timer, they don’t let us deposit “warm” at the bank.
Sports can produce such spoiled children that they turn on even the patriarch who spoiled them. So, at Florida State, the brats pulled the plug on the grandfather who made them matter. Maybe he didn’t have the strength for a fight at the end. Or, more likely, maybe he didn’t want to burden the family with an ending made messier by his public gnashing and wailing. He would go quietly, extending them a kindness they did not deserve.
Odd, huh? That the only one exhibiting any kind of class at the end of his own demise would be Bobby Bowden?
“Disappointed” is the word he chose. Pressed, he laughed and said he wouldn’t use a harsher one than that. I’ve been interviewing him for two decades, and he has never been nearly as careful or clipped with his words as he was when discussing his emotions about the exit. Angry? Insulted? Any tears? No. No. No.
He admitted he wanted one more year, just to get the punctuation right, but the head of the boosters went to the papers and said Bowden needed to be gone immediately — a booster group, it ought to be noted, that matters only because of what Bowden has done during 34 years at what used to be an all-female school. Money can’t buy you “class,” booster man, even though you evidently can afford the down payment on the last three letters.
How did Bowden feel about what the booster did? “Stimulated,” he said. Not hurt or angry or insulted. Stimulated. Bowden’s wife, so proud, so strong, would show no such restraint. She torched the booster in the papers. Bobby, ever the coach, asked his loving queen to please not do any more interviews after that.
Maybe there is no good way to force out a reluctant legend, only different kinds of bad. But there is something noble in a betrayed Bowden getting his own part of the exit right even while wronged.
Here’s the worst part: There was already a plan in place to replace Bowden by 2011, agreed to by all. And he has been, by his own admission, only a figurehead for years. So the people who will take over now, a year too soon, are the same ones who have been running things already. You couldn’t give the old man one more year with returning starters and a good veteran quarterback to get his punctuation right and make it at least look like he was leaving by choice?
Bowden deserves better, but his employer does not. And maybe there is something symbolic about that.
Bobby Bowden, rising above FSU right until the very end.