TALLAHASSEE — At 12:15 p.m. on a sweltering Tallahassee day, Kristin Tetsworth inched her way past the hedges that surround the bronze, 9-foot statue of Bobby Bowden outside Doak Campbell Stadium.
She sized up the available real estate. There wasn’t much space left in front of the coach. Eventually, she found an opening just big enough for the old orange juice bottle she was using as a vase.
Her tribute stood taller than the rest. A shock of red, she said, because it was from the heart.
It was only a few hours after the news of Bowden’s death hit the Florida State University community. There was no plan for a public show of support for the beloved coach. But dozens of FSU fans like Tetsworth came to the statue on Sunday anyway, as though summoned by the gravitational force of their loss.
“He’s changed lives for people. He deserves respect. It’s just what you do,” said Tetsworth, who said she graduated from FSU in 1976 — the year Bowden took over the football program. “He’s like a family member.”
At the statue, families gathered for a silent communion with Bowden. Fathers brought sons. Wives brought husbands. Solemn individuals took photos of the makeshift memorial. Some took a moment to read the plaques that surround the statue. Some wept. Everyone wore Seminole garnet.
Anna Irwin wiped away a tear while her husband, David, placed an assortment of roses near Coach Bowden. She wasn’t there to honor Bowden’s stellar coaching resume. She was there out of deference for the figure Bowden represented to her off the field.
“He changed so many lives through his faith,” Anna Irwin said of Bowden, an outspoken Christian. “He used his position to help save people.”
Many spoke of what Bowden meant to Tallahassee. Although he won national acclaim for his success in America’s most popular sport, he was, by many accounts, a man about town.
Jimmy Lovelady and his wife, Jennifer, had errands to run Sunday. But Jimmy had never known life in his city without Coach Bowden. When Lovelady learned about his death, he said he added one stop to his to-do list.
Bowden might be gone, but there was still a time and a place to remember him.
“We got Bobby right here,” said Jimmy Lovelady, pointing at the statute.