Is Bobby Bowden Facing the Abyss?

One of college football's blacker legends is that of Bear Bryant's death. After his retirement in 1982, he said he'd "croak in a week." Just 28 days after he left Alabama, Bryant had passed.

One of Bobby Bowden's touchstones has always been Alabama. Not only did he grow up an Alabama fan, he played at the school, briefly, and both pursued and was pursued by Alabama in later life.

And for all intents and purposes, when one speaks of the University of Alabama's football team in the South, Bear Bryant is the understood he in the sentence, so massive and enduring is his shadow.

So it verges on impossible to see Bowden in his twilight and not think of Bryant. And it seems equally hard to ignore the lingering possibility, dark though it may be, that the bitter end of Bowden's career is the beginning of a funeral procession.

The circling columnists are not writing death knells, but they come close. The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi asserts that "Sadly, it's time for Bobby to retire," while the Tallahassee Democrat's Steve Ellis leads with, "It is time to move beyond the Bobby Bowden era." For every thing there is a season, but if Bobby Bowden isn't meant to be a part of fall football, doesn't that move him into winter? And if the wins accumulated during two seasons of academic malfeasance are yanked away by the NCAA, is Bowden going to continue his Sisyphean trudge up the mountain to catch Joe Paterno?

This all assumes a lot about Bowden, namely that his talents and taste for coaching have gone, and that the decision on his future is still his to make. Reports out of Tallahassee are insinuating that it might not be, with a new president coming in and a powerful booster suggesting Bowden is on his way out.

But if it isn't, doesn't that just add to the macabre fatalism of this situation? Bowden nurtured FSU from nascence to national titles, and now looks old and -- worse -- incompetent. Bowden is a man whose job and passion has been coaching young men for more than 50 years. Take away that responsibility, and what does he have?

I should be clear: In no way do I want to see Bowden leave this mortal coil. Even as a Florida fan, I can acknowledge that he is a giant in college football, having built a program that stood astride the landscape for decades.

But it's hard to imagine where Bowden will go when he cannot haunt the sidelines, and it's hard to discard the cold truth about Bear Bryant's death, however freighted with chance and legend, when talking about Bobby Bowden. Though the dark gathered clouds suggest strongly this is his time to leave coaching, we should all hope it is not his time in other connotations.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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