I had been anticipating this moment for weeks. Ever since my good friend, and local evangelist, Randy Lamb invited me to dinner with Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden; I had been at a loss for words (and sleep). I thought of what I would say to him, how I would approach him and most of all, why a young man like me was worthy of sitting at the same table with a man as revered as Coach Bowden.
In the hours preceding the event, I found myself doing what I haven't done in a few years…making myself look presentable. Like most 18 year olds, my day-to-day attire consists of a white t-shirt, a pair of blue jeans and a disgustingly delightful (used-to-be) white baseball hat that by ritual cannot be washed. After I shaved, struggled to put my suit on, and had a neighbor fix my tie (which I had a terrible time with), I stared at myself in the mirror. "Does this man look acceptable enough for Bobby Bowden?" I asked myself. A ringing doorbell answered my question. Before I dashed to the door, I grabbed an article that I wrote on the 2002 Florida State football season. Unlike most columnists, this piece told of how proud I was of the team, commended them for overcoming adversity, and for defying what the record book said. I felt like it was my best article to date, and though I didn't quite know what to expect, I wanted to Coach Bowden to read it.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I gleamed with excitement. I had a permanent smile etched on my face and since my ears are pretty big, I probably looked ridiculous. After finishing my meal and luckily not spilling any on myself, I stepped away from the table for a glass of water. To my surprise and delight, a short, older gentleman, exuding charisma, greeted my return. "How are you son?" the celebrated figure asked. After responding with something that has already escaped my memory, I sat down at the table. As I came to realize I was actually having dinner with Bobby Bowden, I felt as if unconsciousness was only a handshake away.
As the dinner continued, my nervousness and shy feelings toward the college football patriarch slowly slipped away. I couldn't help but feel comfortable in his presence and was astounded by how personable he was. With every sentence he used words like "son" and "brother" and I couldn't help but feel reassured by his southern charm. Like myself, Coach Bowden is a diabetic. After he heard about my illness, we talked for what seemed like hours about how we dealt with our disease. I felt like he was really interested in what I had to say and he related well with the problems that I have encountered.
After finishing his meal, Coach Bowden approached the podium for his much-anticipated speech. His humor-lined words hit home with each in attendance and left everyone feeling proud to be in the same room with the man.
When he returned to the table, he asked for my article. While I honestly wasn't sure what he was going to do with my story, he sat in his chair and diligently read it word for word. After he finished, he looked up with a glimmer in his eye and said, "That was amazing, thanks a lot." Those six words made what had been a tough year for me evaporate into the South Georgia sky. He then pulled a pen from his jacket and scribbled something onto the paper. For the longest time I was afraid to read what he wrote. I didn't know why, but I just could not open the manila folder that contained the story I held so dearly to my heart.
As the media frenzy and autograph session ensued, Reverend Lamb and I approached the famous coach once again. He graciously agreed to take a picture with us and sign a personalized message to Reverend Lamb's wife, Gini. On the ride home, I couldn't help but appreciate the storybook tale I was part of. I sat in admiration of how quickly his friendliness and down-home persona engulfed everyone in attendance.
Meeting Coach Bowden was an occasion I will treasure as long as I live. The man treated me with respect, talked candidly with me with a smile on his face and though he didn't realize it, taught me life lessons that will forever be entrenched in my soul.
As the trip came to a close, I hesitantly reached for my folder. I held it in my hand for moment, still in disbelief of the fact that THE Coach Bowden had actually read my article. As I sat there, thoughts of the wonderful time I had and of how lucky I was to spend time with the living legend flooded over me. With a hopeful, yet timid heart I opened the folder.
"2/3/03 Super Job! Bobby Bowden."