On the road with Red Man, cigars and Bobby
By Charlie Barnes, Executive Director - Seminole Boosters
Hard to believe, but there was a time when Bobby Bowden wasn't the star of the Bobby Bowden Tour. Upon arrival at FSU as the new head coach in 1976, Bobby immediately set about arranging a series of meetings around the state with Seminole alumni. This new "Bobby Bowden Tour," the first such coaches' tour in the state, was very unlike the model he brought with him from West Virginia. The Mountaineers Tour featured a mix of a dozen or more administrators, coaches and legends, and the head football coach was just one of the gang.
The geography of West Virginia is far different from Florida's, although the campus in Morgantown is as isolated in their panhandle as we are in our own. When Coach Bowden was offensive coordinator in the late '60s, and then head coach from 1970 through 1975, the Mountaineer Athletic Foundation put on its own tour.
There were Athletic Department officials, a random selection of head coaches of different sports, plus some of the old greats whose names still stirred the hearts of the Blue & Gold faithful. All these were loaded onto a luxury touring bus, complete with bunks, a kitchen, bathroom and entertainment options. The entourage would stop at Omar, or Hoden, or Logan, or maybe Lumberport. Everyone would play golf with the alumni.
The next night they'd be in Bluefield, or Ripley, or maybe Parkersburg, and the crowd would enjoy the stories of Mountaineer legends like Hot Rod Hunley and Jerry West. "I was always there," Bobby remembers, "and I was always introduced, but most of the time I didn't even speak."
"We had a great time, all of us together," he says. "We played cards and laughed, and someone else did the driving." But when he came to Florida State, he was on his own. The tour was his idea, an attempt to recreate some of the enthusiasm and connection with the alumni they'd had at West Virginia. The Seminoles, however, unhappy after firing two coaches in three years, wanted to see, to hear, to connect with only Bobby Bowden.
This year's was the 22nd annual Spring Tour, our 20th tour together; I was hired in part to organize and expand it.
In the early days, we traveled in my car, the back seat filled with boxes of golf caps for the tournaments, and the trunk jammed with clubs and suitcases. Late at night on our way out of whichever town we'd just visited, we'd always stop at a 7-11 where he'd buy a Goo-Goo chocolate bar and a pack of Red Man, and I'd buy some cheap cigars. Neither of us is allowed to indulge those specific pleasures anymore.
Ann began traveling with us after Jeff and Ginger graduated from high school. We traded the car for a van, and the vans have become larger and more elaborate. Following the National Championship in 1993, the Mark III company in Ocala made a custom travel van for the tour, with engraved panels commemorating the Orange Bowl, elaborate embroidery, and a bewildering array of electronics.
This spring, the travel van was specifically manufactured by Ken Marks Ford in Clearwater. Ken Jr. is an alum and his just-delivered van is a marvel of electronic wizardry. The leather seats, embroidered with Seminole-head logos, can be automatically plumped up to support the lower back. There's a TV and VCR, a stereo system, and two CD players. And, I swear I am not making this up, a knob that says simply: aircraft. I called the shop and asked, and they don't know either. Maybe this thing will fly; I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Following the National Championship Tour in the spring of 1994, Coach Bowden asked that the number of stops be reduced from around thirty to twenty. The schedule has to be in place by September 1. That gives Coach plenty of flexibility to work his own schedule around the tour, and it allows the host Seminole Clubs to lock up golf courses, hotels and country clubs as much as a year in advance.
Our host Seminole Clubs are always most gracious and very accommodating of Coach Bowden and the traveling party. And, while the details of each Bobby Bowden Day are tightly orchestrated and elaborately planned, we try to ensure that each stop on the road retains some flavor of the local area. The point, after all, is to bring the program directly to our Seminole fans so they can enjoy it and have fun.
We've had Cuban food in Miami, and gophers and dumplings in Niceville. We've stayed at some of the most exotic resorts, and once we spent the night in a small town motel that had the word VACANCY painted on one wall. Found out later that deputy sheriffs had set up surveillance in a ruined truckstop across the street, watching for drugs. One of them recognized Bobby through the binoculars and slipped over in the night for a quick autograph.
We played a Seminole golf tournament at one resort so exclusive that when Coach showed up in shorts, they refused to allow him on the course. Shorts per se, they sniffed, were permitted, but denim shorts? Please! While our club hosts scrambled to get Coach a pair of trousers, I told him how sorry I was for the embarrassment. "That's OK," he said, as he dipped into his pouch and bit off a chew. "I'm fixing to introduce this course to Red Man."