Bobby Bowden’s philosophy of faith, family, football — in that order — inspired Derrick Brooks from their days together at Florida State three decades ago until the last conversation they ever had three weeks ago.
Brooks, the FSU and Bucs legend, called his former coach to check in on him around the time Bowden’s terminal illness became public. Bowden turned the conversation around with a message to his former star linebacker:
You just keep doing goodwill in the community, and hug your babies.
“Those were the last words that he said to me…” Brooks said this week. “He was inspiring me to continue to do the goodwill in the community that I was doing and keep hugging my babies.”
Bowden, who died Sunday at age 91, had been teaching Brooks the importance of those things for years — through words, yes, but also through actions.
Bowden showed his Christian faith by taking his team to religious services at different denominations every preseason. Wednesday nights were for family dinners with coaches’ wives and children. Friday nights were for chapel services, where Bowden would take a piece of that week’s game and connect it to a Bible verse or story.
“You see all those things openly displayed on a day-to-day basis,” Brooks said. “He lives what he was teaching.”
Brooks has tried to live that way, too, from reading to children to volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club to co-founding Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School. There were other influences on Brooks’ philanthropy, of course, including former Bucs coach Tony Dungy. But…
“A foundation was set in college and the things I did in college,” Brooks said.
And that all started with Bowden.
It’s no wonder, then, that Brooks’ favorite Bowden moment has nothing to do with X’s and O’s or their 1993 national championship. It happened one day when Brooks was called into Bowden’s office. He knew he was in trouble, but he didn’t know why. Then Bowden pulled out his grades and circled a C.
Brooks started making excuses until he heard a sound coming from the phone. Unbeknownst to Brooks, Bowden had called his mother and put her on speaker. Brooks’ mom let him have it with words we can’t repeat here.
“Coach Bowden obviously being a man of God was surprised my mom went off like that…” Brooks said. “He said, ‘Ms. Brooks, I’ll take it from here.’
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“He hung the phone up. Coach, you’ll never, ever have to worry about that being a problem. He said, ‘I know, Derrick, because I don’t want her to come down here and whoop my butt as well as yours. You better get it together.’”
Brooks did because of the standard Bowden set for him.
Brooks thought about that moment this week as he reflected on the man who helped shape his life for the past 30 years.
“I guess honoring him as a legend, I’m going to do my best to live my life to represent his legacy,” Brooks said. “And that’s serving God to the best of my ability and trying to make life better for someone else, because that’s what he did.”
By doing goodwill in the community and hugging your babies.
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