August 21, 2013

Mark Millican: ‘A glint and a glare’

Mark Millican

— Undoubtedly, many of the 350-plus people at Family Frameworks’ recent “tailgate” fundraiser came to hear Bobby Bowden speak because he’s the winningest coach in major college football history.

But others came to hear Bowden, who led Florida State University to two national championships and a dozen ACC titles, because they know he’s a dedicated Christian. That doesn’t mean he’s never had to get in the ring and mix it up with other recruiters of blue-chip prospects, or get some of those same high school superstars out of jail once they experienced the freedom of college life a little too loosely.

I first heard Bowden speak around 25 years ago at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in north Atlanta. In a reception line the other night, he wanted to know where that was (Mount Paran Church of God), then looked upward, appearing to be searching his memory banks. What I remember more than his message that evening was his refreshing unpretentiousness. I suppose it could all have been a ruse, but as a cub sportswriter hearing his “Aw, shucks, if I hadn’t grown up next to a recreation center down in Florida, I’d never have gotten into coaching” personality, I believed him.

You could tell the 44-year head coach had been around the banquet circuit a time or two. His slow gait to the podium — he’s 83 now — didn’t foreshadow a slow wit. Or perhaps all his icebreakers have just become routine. He told an audience dressed in the colors of their favorite sports teams his wife of 64 years, Ann, always drives on long trips — he just holds the wheel.

“She told me one time, ‘You love football more than you do me!’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Which one, college or pro?’”

Bowden also told his “all-time favorite” sports story about an Illinois football team that began a season in the 1930s by tying a small college team from Peoria, and then lost its next three games. They faced Michigan next, which had won a national championship the year before. Worse, the mother of the Illinois team captain died and he had to leave. “He was the closest thing to heart the team had,” Bowden said.

“No one wanted to practice, play or hustle” as Michigan loomed on the horizon, he continued. The coaches took the team out of town to stay overnight at a country club to reduce distractions before the big game and were going over the game plan when, lo and behold, the back door opened and the team captain walked in. He asked the coaches if he could make some remarks, thanked everyone for their notes, letters and calls in the wake of his mother’s death, then said this, Bowden relayed: “If you think I came up here to get beat tomorrow, you’re wrong.”

Bowden said when the coaches made room checks that night, they saw “a glint and a glare” in the players’ eyes. Of course, they beat Michigan the next day in one of college football’s biggest upsets, perhaps forever earning their nickname as “The Fighting Illini.”

Bowden probably didn’t know it, but the analogy was not lost on many in the Family Frameworks crowd. Most knew that for the past 20 to 30 years one of the “Goliaths” in the Whitfield-Murray area has been the teenage pregnancy rate that outpaces the rest of the state — not one of the categories where you want to lead the league. But Kathy Schleier, the outreach founder and director who has taken her “successful marriages lead to all-around healthy children” thesis on as a crusade, announced there has been a 10 percent reduction in the teen pregnancy rate in the dual county area.

After getting Family Frameworks and its volunteers into every high school in Murray and Whitfield counties with the pro-family and abstinence-before-marriage message, she said the ministry was “claiming that one.”

Amazingly, Bowden said he’s spoken to too many booster organizations, civic clubs and business groups to count, but his recent date in Dalton was the first family event he’s ever addressed. He lauded the Family Frameworks team after learning of their work here.

It’s what can happen when a group of people get “a glint and a glare” in their eyes. Want to get off the bench and in the game with them? Visit www.marriageisforever.org.