On Saturday, there were an unusual number of people at the Billy Graham Library wearing maroon.
Although, a Florida State University (FSU) fan would call it “garnet.”
Hundreds were decked out in garnet and gold Seminole garb as they waited to meet coaching legend Bobby Bowden. Everyone had a book in hand for him to sign. Many brought other items—such as footballs, pictures, helmets and jerseys—to be autographed by the College Football Hall of Famer.
Leo Ortiz, who brought his wife and three children, was among the crowd.
Ortiz, who describes himself as a “die-hard FSU fan,” graduated from FSU in 1999, when Bowden was still coaching. As a friend of several football players, he had a front row seat to watch Bowden’s impact on their lives.
“Coach Bowden was such a leader in the Tallahassee community for many years, on and off the field. He is a godly man. He was a father figure to so many of the players,” Ortiz said.
“Most of these guys were superstars back home. But Coach Bowden was able to guide them toward teamwork, and he built unified teams. And I think that’s why he was so successful at FSU.”
There was another visitor in the crowd who goes back more than a half century with Bowden.
Bill Shepherd stood in line with his daughter, Sharon Greeley, as he reminisced about his college football days in Alabama. Bowden was his teammate at Howard College, now known as Samford University. The two even played against each other in high school.
Shepherd had not seen Bowden since 1985, at a reunion. So he came to surprise his longtime friend.
“I’m excited to see him after so long. I’m going to wait and see if he recognizes me,” Shepherd laughed.
But he got serious as he talked about the impact Bowden had on his teammates: “He was always serious about God, even then. He was also very encouraging to the rest of us; always a cheerleader.”
Shepherd made his way through the line and approached Bowden: “You and I played against Florida State in 1950. Do you know who I am?”
Bowden paused for a second, and then his face lit up when he realized who had come to visit him.
They exchanged pleasantries, giving each other life updates and catching each other up on the lives of their teammates. Bowden even remembered Shepherd’s late wife, who he knew from childhood.
“This has made my dad’s day,” said Sharon Greeley. “I am so glad (the Billy Graham Library) hosted this.”
While it made Shepherd’s day to be reunited with his college teammate, it made Bowden’s day to visit the Billy Graham Library.
For Bowden, it seems only fitting that he signed many copies of his latest book, The Wisdom of Faith, in a place that bears the name of the man who imparted biblical wisdom to him—both personally and from a distance.
When Bowden was a freshman in college, his mother gave him a copy of Billy Graham’s first book. He devoured it and credits that book and other writings from “America’s Pastor” with much of his spiritual growth.
Later, Bowden would participate in two Billy Graham Crusades. Billy Graham also came to Tallahassee to spend time with the coach in his office and speak to the players.
“He affected me more, spiritually, than anyone in my whole life, other than my own father,” Bowden said. “He is a hero to me. He is the most godly man I have ever known.
“For me to be here, signing books and meeting people that tell me that I have done for them what Billy Graham has done for me—this is the highlight of my year.”