Remembering when the late Bobby Bowden spoke in Gaston County

By Richard Walker

The Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame banquet has featured many legendary speakers since the event began in 1961.

Bobby Bowden posed for a photo with Gaston Gazette staffers before speaking at the 2011 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame banquet

And the late Bobby Bowden was among that group when he spoke at the Aug. 15, 2011 banquet at Cramer Mountain Country Club.

He became the seventh national championship-winning coach to speak the event when he spoke less than two years after he retired from college football as the second-winningest coach in history after the 2009 season.

Known for his homespun humor with catch-phrases like “dadgum” and “doggone,” Bowden did that and more in front of a packed crowd in Cramerton.

“There’s an old saying among coaches that either you’ve been fired or you haven’t been fired yet,” Bowden told the crowd. “That’s definitely true in my family. All of my boys have been fired.”

Bowden’s oldest son Tommy Bowden had been fired at Clemson in the middle of the 2008 season, middle son Terry Bowden was fired at Auburn after the 1998 season and youngest son Jeff Bowden was fired as offensive coordinator at Florida State in during the 2006 season.

Long an advocate for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Bowden had spoke at a FCA event in Lincolnton earlier in the day.

Then-North Carolina state FCA director Shane Williamson was among the guests for the 2011 GCSHOF banquet. Others included former Oregon, Tennessee, UNC-Asheville and Huss High basketball coach Jerry Green, then-new Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert, former Gardner-Webb and Bessemer City High football coach Woody Fish.

The time of Bowden’s speech came only a few years after the 2006 Hollywood college football movie “We Are Marshall” that involved a portrayal of Bowden during his time as West Virginia head coach.

Bowden was shown as very sympathetic to new Marshall coach Jack Lengyel (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) and Marshall assistant coach Red Dawson (portrayed by Matthew Fox). Bowden, who was portrayed by Mike Pniewski, told the audience he had known Lengyel for many years and actually had coached Dawson at Florida State in the 1960s when Bowden was a Seminoles’ assistant coach.

Before the speech, Bowden was approached by current Gaston County commissioner Chad Brown seeking credit for Florida State’s 1999 national football title. Brown, a 1990 North Gaston High graduate, had played in the Toronto Blue Jays organization with eventual Seminoles quarterback Chris Weinke.

“I talked him out of baseball,” Brown told Bowden of Weinke, who quarterbacked Florida State to the 1999 NCAA title, won the 2000 Heisman Trophy and played six seasons for the Carolina Panthers.

After Bowden’s speech, four Gastonians – Doug Hoffman, William Partlow, Charlie Pearson and Thomas “Bubba” Wilson – were inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame.

Bowden died on Sunday at 91 after a battle with cancer.

Other national championship-winning coaches who have been featured speakers are Paul “Bear” Bryant (1963), Paul Dietzel (1964), Darrell Royal (1965), Duffy Daugherty (1970), Joe Paterno (1974), Bobby Ross (2007) and Roy Williams (2015). And Lou Holtz is slated to speak at the Oct. 16, 2021 event.