TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Warrick Dunn arrived at Florida State in 1993, he had just lost his mother, and worried about how he would care for his siblings back home in Louisiana.
But there was something about the way coach Bobby Bowden made him feel at ease, and it had nothing to do with football.
"Looking back, Coach Bowden saw something in me that no one else saw," Dunn said during a ceremony honoring Bowden's life. "He believed in me, and that's a powerful thing for an 18-year-old who's just trying to figure out life. Coach is the type of man who uses faith and wisdom to shape boys into men."
Speaker after speaker who took the stage Saturday relayed the same message, forgoing nearly all talk about Bowden's legendary football coaching career to share why Bowden was a man they loved and respected. Every anecdote and story focused on Bowden's faith, his belief system and the way he showed care and compassion for his players, his coaches and above all else -- his family.
Bowden died Aug. 8 at age 91 of pancreatic cancer, but the event inside the Florida State basketball arena was a celebration of his life more than anything.
More than 300 former players and coaches came to pay their respects, including Peter Warrick, Terrell Buckley, Derrick Brooks, Charlie Ward, Brad Johnson and Chris Weinke. Also in attendance were Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, USF coach Jeff Scott and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who succeeded Bowden as Florida State coach and spent eight seasons as the Seminoles coach -- winning a national title in 2013.
Fisher rearranged his team's practice schedule in order to attend, and reflected back on the way his career so dovetailed with Bowden's. His relationship with the family dates back to 1984, when he and Bowden's son Terry played at Salem College together, before Fisher transferred to Samford -- where Bobby Bowden went to school.
Fisher served as Florida State offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden before becoming head coach.
"He was a great mentor," Fisher said. "What he and his family meant to me in my career and the things I've been able to accomplish, the things they taught me and the exposure I had to doing things right with the best person in the history of the game that's ever done it, I'm so blessed to be able to have that relationship."
When Fisher moved on to Texas A&M after the 2017 season, Bowden still kept up with his career. An avid newspaper reader, Bowden got a subscription to the Houston Chronicle so he could keep up.
On stage, Brooks shared one of his favorite memories during his time playing at Florida State, when he got called into Bowden's office for the first time as a freshman. Brooks had no idea what he did wrong, and neither did anybody else. Brooks walked nervously in to see Bowden, who told him how disappointed he was that Brooks wasn't living up to his potential.
Surprised at the words, Brooks asked if he was absolutely sure he got the right player. Bowden said yes. Then he pulled out Brooks' grades from the first semester. Bowden pointed at the C Brooks got in biology, noting it was the first time in his life he got a C. Suddenly, Brooks heard another voice -- his mother screaming profanities from the speakerphone.
"He hung that phone up and he said, 'Oh my God, Derrick, you better get it together,'" Brooks said. "'Dadgummit, I don't want her to come down here to whup your butt and mine at the same time, so you better figure this out.'"
Brooks said that story shows why he loved Bowden so much -- he was going to make sure Brooks lived up to his potential in every aspect of his life. When they spoke two and a half weeks ago, Bowden told him, "Derrick, if God gave me 10 minutes or 10 years, I'm at peace. But more important, I want you to continue changing lives in the community and dadgummit, make sure you keep hugging your babies."
Dunn pointed out that the Bowden football legacy "is like no other," but also mentioned three Florida State players won the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for their service to their communities -- himself, Brooks and Anquan Boldin -- a reflection of Bowden himself.
There was some football talk sprinkled in. Ward, who helped Bowden and Florida State win their first national title in 1993, mentioned the three P's he lives by to this day, which Bowden taught him: preparation, perseverance, patience. He relayed a story about perseverance from his junior season, when he threw 17 interceptions -- including four in a win over Clemson.
"Adversity was something he helped me to overcome because he supported me when I was throwing the football to the wrong team a lot my junior season," Ward said. "Yes, he had his doubts but I'm grateful he allowed me to fail and come back to redeem myself. He had the faith in me to keep pushing me forward, but reminded me in that Clemson game that we were wearing white, not orange."
Several of Bowden's children also spoke. His daughter, Ginger, read a letter that Bowden wrote to his future wife, Ann, on March 10, 1949, in which he expresses his love for her. She spoke about her parents' 72-year marriage, before a video montage played of the two of them while someone sang "Wind Beneath My Wings." The montage closed with a photo of Ann holding Bobby Bowden's hand during one of his final days.
Tommy Bowden and Terry Bowden, who went into coaching thanks to their dad, also spoke. Terry relayed the message he recently gave to his ULM football team, one he learned time and again from his father: Make football a priority, not THE priority.
Football is what allowed Bowden to impact all those around him, and it is why the family made the celebration open to the public. After a 34-year career with the Seminoles, there seemed to be only one fitting way to end the day: With the FSU Marching Chiefs streaming into the arena, playing the school song and the war chant, one last time for their coach.