HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Owen Bowen III - better known as O.B. - loved Southern Miss with all his heart.
And it loved him just the same.
Never more apparent was the latter than Tuesday when services for Bowen, who died at 65 Jan. 7 following a bout with cancer, were held at Richton United Methodist Church. Hundreds of current and former Golden Eagles made their way to the small town in Perry County to pay their final respects to a man who gave more than four decades of his life to the school’s athletic department.
Bowen, a special assistant for the football program from 1973 until he retired after the 2015 season, is considered a legend among legends from a school known for its rich and storied tradition.
“O.B. was the best,” NFL Hall of Famer and former Southern Miss quarterback Brett Favre said Monday. “To me, he’s a legend to the Southern Miss faithful. He was the most knowledgeable when it came to USM athletics.
“I love that guy, and I’m sure many others feel the same.”
Hailed for his storytelling ability, admired for never forgetting a face and revered as a kind man, Bowen quickly became part of the fabric of Golden Eagle football. Over the years, Southern Miss coaches and staff members relied on him to perform a number of duties ranging from picking up the football office’s mail to running errands and lending a hand in the equipment room.
“He was always willing to do anything for anybody,” said John Cox, who is in his 40th year as the school’s director of broadcast operations. “If you needed him, he was there for you.”
Bowen, however, is perhaps best known for his role on the practice field. He sat quietly, most often on the south side of the Joe P. Park Practice Facility, until it was time to spring into action. Bowen blew the air horn - like clockwork - when the time came to signal to players and coaches that a particular practice period was over.
Retired Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, who met Bowen when he arrived at Southern Miss as a quarterback in 1976, quickly developed a durable bond with the Richton native.
“He was a dear friend of mine,” Hammond said. “We were roommates in college, and one of the lifelong lessons he taught me was just how to be nice to people. He never had anything bad to say about anyone. He cared about everyone, and he touched our hearts. Not many people can you say that about at the end of their life.”
In the hours following his death, many people took to social media to remember Bowen.
“O.B. touched many (Golden Eagles’) lives,” former Southern Miss football coach Larry Fedora wrote on Facebook. “He will be missed by many.”
“Always loved sitting by him while I was hurt and tell him to blow the horn!” former Golden Eagle wide receiver DeAndre Brown posted on Facebook. “Gonna miss him!”
Current Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson, who worked as an assistant coach under Jeff Bower from 2001-03 and 2005-07, took to Twitter.
“A true ‘Golden’ Eagle has flown off to Heaven!!” he wrote. “All former and current players and coaches will miss you!!”
Bowen’s sister, Linda Sue McCaskill, said Southern Miss gave his life meaning and purpose.
“He was definitely a true Golden Eagle,” she said, noting Bowen was in attendance for the football team’s final home game of the 2017 season (a win over Charlotte). “Someone who loved Southern Miss more than anything. He had his limitations but because of his association with the university, I really feel that made him realize he had a lot to offer and a lot to give.
“They respected him as an individual and gave him the opportunity to become the person he became.”
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com
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