- - Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bobby Bowden is the best coach that I’ve been around,” former Notre Dame Head Coach Lou Holtz says at the beginning of the new documentary “The Bowden Dynasty: A Story of Faith, Family & Football,” which weaves together interviews and clips from the Florida State University coaching great and Alabama native’s storied career.

Holtz is joined in his praise by former FSU player and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who says that Bowden “is the best college football coach ever.”

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban, current FSU Head Coach Jimbo Fisher, retired college and NFL coaching great Jimmy Johnson — the names keep coming on screen along with the accolades.

Produced by Rob Harvell and Brian Goodwin (“The Book of Manning,” “I Hate Christian Laettner”) for ESPN Films alongside veteran TV and film producer John Corry, “The Bowden Dynasty” weaves together game footage with recreated scenes of Bowden’s childhood, and showcases interviewees from a childhood friend to some of college football’s most-known names.

“I was lucky I had a Christian mother and a Christian dad and sister … they took us to church every Sunday and Sunday night,” the friendly, next-door-neighborly Bowden told The Washington Times. “We were raised that way, and that’s all we knew. That was probably the foundation of my life. Therefore, I tried to follow the principles that I was taught.”

Bowden, now 87, applies the same candid perspective on his faith as he does on his legendary 57-year career, which is at once intriguing, inspiring and consistently filled with humor.

And faith. Bowden regularly credits his believe in God for getting him through challenging circumstances, including a tough bout with rheumatic fever at age 13 that left him bedridden for a year. The young teen was told he would never play football again — devastating news for an aspiring athlete who had already developed a strong passion for the sport in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

Bowden credits his return to health to prayer, and he was soon back on the gridiron on his way to a stellar career that included two national championships as a coach.

Bowden recalls praying, both as a player and coach, with his team prior to games — but not for victory.

“I’m sure I was, but not openly,” he said when asked if he was ever mocked for his on-the-field religious beliefs. “I kept waiting for that to happen. I kept waiting for someone to say, ‘You can’t do that anymore. You can’t read the Scripture to those boys. You can’t have prayer with those boys.’ It never did, and yet it could have so easily,” he said.

A defining turn in his faith came following the 1986 death of FSU offensive lineman Pablo Lopez, a team leader who was shot to death during an off-campus argument. Following the incident, Bowden talked openly with his players about life and faith.

“That was tough, because a football team is like a family. You have 100 players, and they’re all pretty close together,” he said. “Then one of their favorite buddies gets murdered. It was a time where it gave me a chance to talk to them about life after death, and I was able to witness to them because of that.”

Bowden recalls that FSU quarterback coach Mark Richt was so touched by the communal moment that he experienced a religious awakening of his own.

In his nearly six-decade coaching career, in addition to FSU, Bowden had six different jobs, including at West Virginia, South Georgia State College and Samford University in his home state of Alabama.

“I didn’t apply for one of them,” he said. “They told me, ‘We want you.’ I applied for some other jobs and didn’t get them, which felt like God was answering my prayer.”

Of course, there were times when Bowden’s faith on the field was put to the test — or probably shouldn’t have been, as he puts it.

Consider the years when FSU suffered heartbreaking losses to its longtime rival, the University of Miami. This period was aptly named the “wide-right saga,” referring to missed FSU field goals that sailed to the right of the goalpost and resulted in tough losses against Miami in 1991, 1992, 2000 and 2004. (A field goal that sailed wide to the left also cost FSU the game against Miami in 2002.)

Did the botched field goals prove to be a test of faith?

“It probably shouldn’t, but it” did, he said. “Two years in a row we missed a field goal — it was a gimme. It was inside the 30 [yard line]. Those are supposed to be automatic. One of them would have won the national championship. The other would have tied and given [FSU] a chance to win a national championship.

“And, oh boy, that tests your faith, boy,” he said. “It’s kind of like that old expression: ‘Why me, God? Why do you do this to me?’ But then you realize what’s important in life. It’s not a football game.”

Bowden is as equally philosophical about his triumphs, his mistakes and the what-might-have-beens.

“As you look back over your life, you can always find mistakes,” he said. “But many of the decisions my wife and I made … we thought that we were doing what God wanted us to do, and most of them turned out better than anything we could have thought up.”

“The Bowden Dynasty: A Story of Faith, Family & Football” will be released nationwide Sunday for one day only. To locate a theater screening the film, go to FathomEvents.com.

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