I noted the death of legendary former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden over the weekend at 91. I had an interaction with Bobby Bowden when I was LSU Homecoming Chairman back in 1981 that was funny but that eventually turned out to be even funnier some 16 years later during a chance meeting.
In 1981, my double alma mater, Louisiana State University (LSU) played Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles for Homecoming. Under NCAA rules in effect at that time, halftime was limited to 15 minutes. It could be extended for up to five additional minutes with the consent of the opposing head coach. Our Homecoming program needed the extra five minutes, so I had to call Coach Bowden and get his consent.
The Phone Call and Homecoming
I made my phone appointment through Coach Bowden’s secretary, which was a scheduled five minute call, sometime during the early summer of 1981. When I got Coach Bowden on the phone, being respectful of his time and being nervous and a bit intimidated, I got right down to business and asked him for the extra five minutes right out of the gate. Coach Bowden immediately started hemming and hawing and explaining to me the risks of the athletes getting cold and pulling muscles. I was sweating bullets. He really made me beg. Then he said okay. I was home free. Or so I thought. Coach Bowden then asked how many of the extra five minutes I wanted. When I said all five minutes, Coach Bowden immediately went right back to hemming and hawing, and he made me justify each of the five extra minutes requested. Thank God that I had the draft halftime schedule that I’d worked out with then LSU Director of Bands Frank Wicks. However, Bowden finally consented to all five minutes, and we hung up, with me shitting bullets. I thought that I had been on the phone for 30 minutes, but in actuality, it had only been 12 minutes. Unfortunately, while Florida State kicked our butts in the game, we had a successful crowning of the 1981 LSU Homecoming Queen. I crowned the queen with then Louisiana Governor, David C. Treen. Little did I know that just 11 years later, Dave Treen would become a colleague at Deutsch Kerrigan & Stiles and a close personal friend.
From 1981-1997: The Story About the Call
For many years, literally from 1981-1997, I occasionally told the story about the phone call with Bowden, but the story I told was quite different than it eventually would be as I describe below. During the call, I started to panic that Coach Bowden wasn’t going to grant us the extra time. I actually started to worry that Frank Wicks (LSU Director of Bands and really the maestro of the I want to say 18:50 carefully coordinated Homecoming field program) and my predecessor chairman, an officious busybody, were going to accuse me of failure. To be honest, and Coach Bowden pulled off a great deceit because he convinced me that he was ambivalent. Of course, after the 1997 reveal that I describe in the next section of this blog, the story changed dramatically and obviously was enlarged by the leg-pulling reveal. The last encounter was more or less an afterthought, but it was a funny one at that.
A Chance Meeting at Steve’s Barber Shop: It Turns Out That the Joke’s on Me!!!
Fast forward to December 30, 1997. I was practicing law as a sole practitioner and had just moved my main office across Lake Pontchartrain to Covington, LA, but I was working out of my old Metairie Road office that day. I was downtown for lunch and popped into Steve’s barbershop on Baronne St. in downtown New Orleans, my regular haircut place (Steve was Italian and used to scream “you too can be beautiful!!!” to almost everyone who walked in-it was a classic throwback male chauvinistic barber shop, complete with Playboy magazines, where plenty of “f*cks were thrown around-my kind of place-his barber partner was a bookie who actually spent most of his taking action on the pay phone), for a haircut after lunch. Seated in the Steve’s barber’s chair was Coach Bobby Bowden, who was in town for the Sugar Bowl, as Florida State was playing in the game that year. The barbershop was packed. Bowden was holding court and talking to everyone. I started to tell him that we’d actually talked on the phone before. However, as soon as I gave him the context of the call, Coach Bowden immediately cut me off and told me that he distinctly remembered the call. Coach Bowden then proceeded to tell the barbershop crowd the story of the call very accurately, and then he said, “Son, I had every intention of giving you permission from the start. I was just pulling your leg!” At this point, the whole barbershop erupted in laughter. Even I had to admit that I’d been had. After Steve finished cutting his hair, Coach Bowden walked over to where I was sitting waiting for my turn and handed me four field level tickets to the game.
The Last Encounter: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again!!!
Fast forward to I think 1999, but it might have been 2000 (I checked, and it turns out that Florida State played in the Sugar Bowl both years), but same time of year, and Florida State was in the Sugar Bowl again. This time, I was in the barber’s chair at Steve’s, getting my hair cut, when in walks Coach Bowden. We took one look at each other and just started laughing. No words other than hello were exchanged. That was the last time I saw him alive. He was a great coach and a very nice man. And he had a wicked sense of humor. RIP Coach Bowden. You got me. #ForeverLSU #TheJokesOnMe #BobbyBowden