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Photographers captured Bobby Bowden's legacy one camera click at a time

Posted at 11:54 PM, Aug 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 19:38:05-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Bobby Bowden always had a 'how ya doing,' or a 'good to see ya.' When he saw journalists and photographers, he wasn't afraid to invite us into his home, or when he was coaching, his office. For those that worked alongside him for decades, they have those memories to hold on to.

"This is the last picture I ever got of him," said Ryals Lee, pointing to a photo he took this spring. "This was on Friday, April the 9th."

Lee has known Bobby Bowden since the beginning.

"I was a kicker, not the kicker, in 76 and 77," he laughed. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

After leaving the program as a player, he started covering the team as a freelance photographer in 1982, and the memories, are endless.

"Coach Bowden had mentioned how much he loved some of Willie (Nelson)'s songs," Lee reflected on the day Bowden met Nelson in Tallahassee. Nelson had a show that night. "Willie goes, 'Bobby, why don't you get on stage with me and sing one with me.' I've never been so relieved to know he had a recruiting trip that afternoon and couldn't stay."

From photographer to photographer, all have stories to tell.

"I did a photo shoot for Sporting News, and he was a few minutes late," remembered Ross Obley. "I said I'm not going to give him grief, and Danny Kannell goes, I will!"

"When we would go to away games, Bill McGrotha would fly on the plane with the team and he sat next to Bobby," added Mark Wallheiser, who was a photographer with the Tallahassee Democrat. "When we'd get up with Bill McGrotha, he'd tell us the first two plays every game so we could position ourselves."

"After the Virginia Tech game, his last game at the Gator Bowl, I got a photo of Ann giving him a kiss in the post game press conference," said Obley. "That was nice."

Behind every photo, a snapshot of history.

"Coach Bowden used to have a frame, an empty picture frame behind his desk," said Lee. "Somebody once asked what it was for. He said 'it's for my first undefeated team.' That year, the team photo day got rained out. When we got to the Sugar Bowl, I got this shot literally a day or two before the game. That was presented after the game to go into that empty picture frame."

Moments captured that are timeless, like Bowden himself.

"He sent a lot of good men out into the world who became good fathers from what they learned from him alone," said Wallheiser.

"Everything he did was because of the man he was," said Lee. "The reason for his legacy is because of him."

A legacy preserved, one camera click at a time.