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Bobby Bowden

The truly Great have faith in a higher power.

As the college football season came to its official close last night with the national championship game, one of the enduring memories of this post-season came at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. There, college football’s second all-time winningest coach Bobby Bowden was carried off the field as his Florida State Seminoles won in what was Bowden’s final game.

The numbers that detail Bowden’s career are mind-numbing: 389 wins, 12 ACC titles, two national championships, two Heisman trophy winners, 15 straight seasons where his team finished ranked in the Top 5. But for Bowden, football was his job–it has never been the most important part of his life. He was asked recently how he felt about his retirement, and whether or not he got emotional thinking about it. His response was simple: “I’m not paying a lot of attention to it. I have never tried to make football my God. I think coaches that make it their God have a struggle. For me, I’m just starting a new life.”

It is this steadfast faith in something higher that has carried Bowden through the peaks and valleys of his career and his personal life. His faith is so important to him that he wanted each player who has come to FSU "Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around." - Henry David Thoreauto have some exposure to what it means. As a result, he has spent the last 34 years asking permission from the parents of every new Seminole recruit to include that player in the two Sunday trips they take each season. One is to a church whose membership is predominantly African-American, and the other is to one that has more Caucasian members. Bowden told me recently (click here to listen to the interview) that in all the years he coached, only two parents asked that their sons not be part of those trips. “I understood why in each case,” the coach said, bobby3“and I think they understood what I try to do with these trips. I just want to make sure our young men knew where they could go when things got tough… and they will get tough.”

When he lost a grandson and former son-in-law in an automobile accident during Hurricane Frances in 2004, Bowden insisted it was no time to question God, but instead, to deepen his trust that there is an ultimate plan to all things. He urges his players towards sportsmanship, prayer, and charitable involvement–and he practices these things himself. In fact, in 2004, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes established the Bobby Bowden Award to honor one college athlete who stands out as a prime example of someone living his or her faith and principles. Bowden’s career may be ending, but his faith is–and has always been–in something much bigger and more lasting than even college football.

Tips from the Great Ones

In a career as storied and celebrated at Bobby Bowden’s, there is much cause for celebrating one’s own success. But Bowden has always kept a much more humble perspective, infusing his interviews with his famous self-deprecating humor and crediting his opportunities and success to God. The Great ones like Bobby Bowden bobby4understand that career accomplishments are not the ultimate measure of a person. Instead, they understand that a life lived with belief is a life of purpose and direction.

What do you believe? What tenets dictate your decisions, your attitude, your outlook on life? What standards do you hold for yourself, and how do you live them out? Take ten minutes today to write down an answer to these questions.

The more clearly you understand your beliefs, the more active a part they can play in your life. If you do not already have one, find a way to incorporate these beliefs into your every day routine. Whether it is a prayer to start your day during your morning commute or a few minutes of mediation before bed, see if you can carve out a short block at the same time each day to reflect on your beliefs and re-center yourself.

Greatness believes that there is a way of living that looks to a higher power for guidance, and finds strength in the practice of this faith. In short, the truly great believe in something Greater.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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