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Tribal members fondly remember Bobby Bowden’s special relationship with tribe

In a return visit to Florida State after retiring, Bobby Bowden talks with Kyle Doney on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium in 2015. Bowden passed away Aug. 8, 2021,at age 91. (FSU Photography Services)

On his way to visiting the Hollywood Reservation in 2006 for the Seminole Tribe’s sports hall of fame banquet, Bobby Bowden summed up why Florida State University’s use of “Seminoles” as a name was so important to him.

“To adopt the name of a tribe of Native Americans who have struggled and withstood and survived against all odds, to me is an act of admiration and respect,” the legendary college football coach told The Seminole Tribune on the jet ride from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale. “Not only do I appreciate the support of the Seminole Tribe, I get excited about it. I’m proud of it.”

For decades, that pride has been reciprocal. Following the coach’s death Aug. 8 at age 91, tribal members, especially those with ties to the university, expressed appreciation not only for what Bowden accomplished on the field – second most wins all-time in major college football – but also his involvement with the Seminole community.

“Throughout all Seminole reservations, regardless of what football team they like, they always respect Bobby,” said Bryan Arledge, a tribal member from the Brighton Reservation who graduated from FSU in 2010, the year Bowden concluded his 34th and final year as FSU coach with a 33-21 win against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day in Jacksonville.

FSU fans and Bobby Bowden supporters from the Brighton Reservation include, from left, Bryan Arledge, Norman “Skeeter” Bowers and Richard Osceola, on Aug. 25, 2021. Arledge is a 2010 FSU graduate. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

Arledge, Richard Osceola and Norman “Skeeter” Bowers – three of FSU’s biggest supporters from the tribe – fondly remembered Bowden while sitting in the backyard of Osceola’s house on the Brighton Reservation in late August.
As a student in Tallahassee, Arledge met Bowden several times. Arledge said the coach made sure the university never took for granted its relationship with the tribe.

“He was very supportive in making sure the university reach out to the Seminoles here on the reservation, and they did ask for our approvals,” Arledge said. “They [weren’t] just making decisions on their own. I think he had a lot of involvement and he cared for the Seminole community…”

Throughout the country, as colleges, high schools and pro teams have dropped Native American names, the Seminole connection between the tribe and FSU remains strong.

“I love the name and I think they show respect,” said Arledge, who is a regional manager in the tribe’s Housing department. “Nothing is disrespectful in any way towards the Seminole name. I’m very appreciative that they have a university called Florida State University and it’s the Seminoles. As a Seminole here in Brighton as well as an alumni, I got full support with the university.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Osceola, who served as sort of an ambassador for the tribe with FSU during Bowden’s tenure.

“They gave me the red carpet treatment,” he said. “They would ask me ‘Are you offended by us?’ I said, ‘No, we’re proud of what you do. It’s like our own football team.’ The students we got from the tribe [who] make it to the university, it’s a privilege to have them there.”

Richard Osceola presents Bobby Bowden with a giant tomahawk the week of the coach’s final game. (File photo)

As a retirement gift in 2010, Osceola and former FSU player Floyd Smith gave Bowden a giant tomahawk made by Leroy Osceola. Two years later in Miami, Osceola presented Bowden with a bronze bust of the coach made by sculptors Bradley Cooley Sr. and his son, Bradley Jr., whose works are prevalent throughout the reservations.

Bowden guided FSU to a remarkable string of 33 straight winning seasons, including an eight-year stretch in the 1990s when the Seminoles won two national titles and lost just nine games.

Osceola described Bowden as a perfect gentleman who cared about the tribe and his players.

“Bobby was so humble. He was like a grandpa to us,” he said. “I had sideline passes one game and I heard him tell his players, ‘We might not win the national title, but I guarantee you all that you’re going to get your degree. You’re going to be a true graduate.’ That’s the way Bobby was.”

Although there are University of Miami fans and graduates sprinkled throughout the tribe, FSU has the greater following, thanks in large part to Bowden.

In 2006, then-President Moses Osceola, left, presented Bobby Bowden and Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell with new Seminole vests during their appearance at the tribe’s sports hall of fame banquet in Hollywood. (File photo)

“Everybody supports him everywhere within this community,” Osceola said. “They love Florida State. They get the license plates. They raise their flags high and it’s all because of Bobby Bowden. He intermingled with us and he’s always reached his hand out to us. He would come and visit us.”

Indeed, Bowden’s relationship with the tribe directly or indirectly helped forge further connections, including the sponsorship of a national award in his name, the princess program being prominently featured during homecoming week and the Renegade and Osceola tradition that revs up the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium.

“To be in that stadium when they do that chant, it goes right through your body. Everybody is in sync. To me, that’s like music to my ears,” said Bowers while wearing a “Renegade Team” polo shirt.

Early in Bowden’s career at FSU, the Renegade and Osceola tradition was born following approval from the tribe. It features a student portraying the great Seminole warrior Osceola riding a horse named Renegade. Bowers said the selection process for the student who portrays Osceola shows that the program respects the tribe and its history.

Moses Jumper Jr. welcomed Bobby Bowden to the Seminole Tribe’s sports hall of fame banquet in February 2006. (File photo)

“It’s not some Joe Blow off the street. They have to have the horseman skills. They have to know the history of the Seminoles. They totally respect the tribe,” Bowers said.

The spiking of the spear at midfield by “Osceola” is often regarded as one of the top traditions in college football. In fact, in 2011, ESPN’s SportsNation voted Osceola and Renegade the best NCAA football tradition in the country.

Bowers said Bowden played a role in making sure the program was done properly.

“Bill Durham (the founder of the program) ran it by Bobby Bowden, who was like in his second season,” Bowers said. “[Bowden] said that’s what we need, we need that spirit. It was Bobby Bowden that insisted that they see if they could do it.”

After meeting with then-Chairman Howard Tommie and the Tribal Council, the Renegade and Osceola program received its blessing from the tribe. Jimmy O’Toole Osceola made the first regalia used by “Osceola.” As the tradition began to carve its niche at FSU, Bowers helped bring it to the Brighton Field Days celebration along with a portion of the FSU marching band.

A group that included Seminoles Deloris Alvarez (third from left), Tony Sanchez (fourth from right), Thomasine Motlow (third from right) and Kyle Doney (second from right), joined Bobby Bowden in presenting the Seminole Tribe of Florida Bobby Bowden Award to Baylor University quarterback Bryce Petty in January of 2014. (Courtesy photo)

‘A genuine person’

It didn’t take long for Kyle Doney to realize Bowden’s admirable qualities as a person away from the field. While in high school, Doney and other students from the tribe met Bowden during a tour of colleges.

“From the first time I met him, I could tell from that experience that he was a genuine person because after competing for nationals championships almost four or five years straight he took the time out to meet with a group of our tribal students, myself included. You just don’t see a person of his caliber taking time out to do that,” said Doney, who graduated from FSU in 2007 and has remained active with the school, including currently serving on its alumni association’s national board.

Doney developed a friendship with Bowden, especially after the coach retired. When the tribe sponsored the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ national college award – known for a couple years as the Seminole Tribe of Florida Bobby Bowden Award – Doney saw first-hand what Bowden meant to college football. The award was presented during the week of the BCS Championship in California in 2014 near the site of the game. Prior to the game, which FSU won 34-31 against Auburn, Doney accompanied the retired coach on a golf cart as he did various media commitments.

“That gave [me] the opportunity to see so many people try to chase the golf cart wherever we’d go just to say hi to coach Bowden. It was a pretty cool sight to see,” Doney said.

Doney said Bowden had a strong connection with the tribe that he took seriously.

Bobby Bowden with Christine McCall, left, and her mother Wanda Bowers on the FSU campus. (Courtesy photo)

“He understood the unique relationship that the tribe had with Florida State,” said Doney, who is deputy director of the tribe’s Native Learning Center in Hollywood. “He definitely did his part to go above and beyond. He had taken time out of his schedule to meet with tribal students whenever he had the opportunity or whenever the tribe [brought] the students up to Tallahassee. I don’t think there was a set amount of time, but he signed every piece of memorabilia or whatever was presented to him.”

Bowden’s interest in the tribe was evident when he visited the Big Cypress Reservation about 2014 while the tribe was a sponsor of the Bowden Award. Doney said he drove Bowden to the field office. Before heading back, Bowden said he wanted to see the tribe’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, so he received a tour of the venue that is filled with Seminole history and culture.

Special relationship

Years earlier – back on that plane trip to South Florida in 2006 for the hall of fame banquet – Bowden talked about his desire to come to where the Seminole live.

“I’ve always wanted to visit the reservation. I’ve never been there before and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve played golf with Max Osceola in Orlando and was invited down once before, but I couldn’t make it until now. We had a good time and I remember he is a Miami fan, but that’s OK,” he said.

Richard Osceola presented Bobby Bowden with a bronze bust of the coach during a University of Miami luncheon at the Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens on Oct. 19, 2012. The bust was funded by the Chairman’s office and made by Bradley Cooley and Bradley Cooley Jr., both longtime sculptors for the tribe. (Beverly Bidney photo)

Bowden also shared his recipe for success that he relayed to kids and players.

“I always tell them to get your priorities in order,” he said. “I say list God first. Make God your number one priority. Next, it’s family and then others, help others. Now if a kid will do that, I believe he will stay on track. He’ll be doing things he ought to do. After I tell them those things I tell them football stories.”

Before his final game as coach at the Gator Bowl, Bowden praised the relationship between the school and the tribe.

“They are so important to our university and we’re thankful for them for letting us use their name and I think they’ve enjoyed us, too,” he said. “I’m going to miss that really.”

Moments after coaching his final game Jan. 1, 2010, Bobby Bowden clutches the Gator Bowl trophy following FSU’s 33-21 win against West Virginia in Jacksonville. (File photo)
Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at