Bobby Bowden woke up Monday morning to play an early round of golf.
More than 960 miles away, as NCAA officials announced unprecedented sanctions against the Penn State football program, including stripping the school of 112 football wins — 111 of them belonging to Joe Paterno-coached teams — Bowden approached the first tee box and swung through.
Later during his round, Bowden walked off the course and was handed a note informing him of the penalties imposed on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.
He had just become college football’s all-time Division I-A wins leader. Bowden topped his close buddy with whom he shared a friendly on-field rivalry for years.
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After the sanctions, Paterno’s former win total of 409 now stands at 298. Bowden has 377.
“I don’t feel any different than I always did,” Bowden, said in a telephone interview with the CDT from his Tallahassee, Fla., home. “The thing is, what happened is so bad, is so drastic, that it overcomes anything that’s happened to me. There’ll be no rejoicing in the Bowden household, I’ll tell you that. I’m just thankful for — I don’t know what to be thankful for. I’m saddened by what happened at Penn State through Sandusky.”
Bowden’s win total — which doesn't count his victories while at South Georgia College — was reduced to that number after Bowden’s FSU program was forced to vacate 12 wins when the NCAA concluded that the Seminoles used ineligible players in 2006 and 2007.
Shortly thereafter, Bowden retired after urging from FSU higher-ups.
“Joe and I had a good race going,” Bowden said. “He topped Bear Bryant. Then I came along and topped Joe. Then Joe came along and topped me. I was enjoying it. As long as he and I were together we never talked about it. But I was kind of enjoying it. Then the NCAA takes 12 games away and I said, ‘Well there goes that game. That’s all over.’ Then of course Florida State let me go, which knocked me completely out of it. So, that’s the way I figured it would stand.”
It stood that way until the NCAA acted on Monday.
Citing the findings of the Freeh Report, commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees and executed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, the NCAA announced all of Paterno’s wins from 1998 to 2011 would be vacated. The NCAA determined that Penn State failed to act appropriately from 1998, when Sandusky’s crimes were first discovered by university officials, to 2011 when athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Shultz testified to a grand jury that they were unaware of Sandusky’s activities.
Earlier this summer, Bowden agreed with the notion that Paterno’s statue outside of Beaver stadium should come down but said that his comments weren’t reported clearly.
Bowden said he would’ve removed the statue because after the Freeh Report was released it would serve as a painful reminder to Sandusky’s victims, their families and Penn State fans.
The Paterno statue was removed Sunday morning.
“This thing happened up there and I wasn’t sure if the NCAA would get involved and to what extent they would,” Bowden said. “So when I heard today what happened, the thing I could think of is, well, you can put all the money in the world out there, put all the restrictions you want on there but it doesn’t take the place of these young men’s lives that have been injured.”
Bowden, his own career affected by NCAA penalties to an extent, didn’t say whether or not he thought college football’s sanctioning body had set a dangerous precedent by punishing Penn State so severely without forming its own investigative committee.
“It must be necessary. Surely they wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t necessary,” Bowden said. “But I think the thing that happened was so drastic that they must’ve felt like they had to come down pretty hard. I’m just sorry all of it happened.”
Travis Johnson can be reached at 231-4629. Follow him on Twitter @traviswjohnson_