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Chuck Amato 'got my chance to say goodbye' to Florida State legend Bobby Bowden

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Chuck Amato knew this was likely the last time he'd speak to Bobby Bowden.

A friendship that had begun a lifetime ago was now whittled down to its final precious moments.

Bowden, though, had one request when the two spoke over the phone Sunday evening.

"I know you're an emotional guy," Bowden said, jokingly. "Don't start crying on me."

Amato laughed.

"Coach, I started crying 15 minutes ago."

It was announced last week that Florida State’s legendary football coach — who turns 92 in November — is dying after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

"I've always tried to serve God's purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come," Bowden said in a statement shared with the Tallahassee Democrat. "My wife Ann and our family have been life's greatest blessing.

"I am at peace."

Former Florida State assistant and N.C. State head coach Chuck Amato shared moments from his final conversation with Bobby Bowden.
Former Florida State assistant and N.C. State head coach Chuck Amato shared moments from his final conversation with Bobby Bowden.

Amato said the two talked for nearly an hour but never spoke about Bowden's medical condition. Instead, they focused on their time together at Florida State, discussing old games, family or long trips they took on the recruiting trail.

Bowden, 91, is the second-winningest coach in Division I history with 357 victories. His teams won national championships in 1993 and 1999. Bowden and Amato won eight Atlantic Coast Conference titles together between 1992 and 1999. They faced each other seven times while Amato was at N.C. State.

"We kept it very positive," said Amato, who worked on Bowden's staff from 1982 to 1999 before becoming head coach at N.C. State in 2000. He returned to FSU in 2007 and worked for Bowden until Bowden's retirement in 2009. "That's the way he's always been. He never wanted to focus on the negative."

Amato, though, made sure his friend knew how much he loved and respected him.

"I told him I had worn out my rosary beads praying for him," Amato said. "I wanted him to know that he taught me everything and that I owed so much to him. He showed me the right way to do things — in coaching and in life.

"It was a tough conversation to have, but I got my chance to say goodbye."

FSU football coach Bobby Bowden welcomes parents of senior players during a ceremony before Saturday's FSU/Maryland game on November 17, 2007. FSU won the game 24-16 to give Bobby Bowden his 300th win as a Seminole coach.
FSU football coach Bobby Bowden welcomes parents of senior players during a ceremony before Saturday's FSU/Maryland game on November 17, 2007. FSU won the game 24-16 to give Bobby Bowden his 300th win as a Seminole coach.

Bowden's impact on the ACC was felt during last week's ACC Kickoff when the news of his condition was released. Duke's David Cutcliffe was moved to tears while speaking about Bowden on Wednesday, and current Florida State coach Mike Norvell gave a moving tribute to his predecessor the next morning.

“As he’s at home, as he’s resting, he talked about being at peace,” Norvell said. “I think that even speaks to the legacy of who he is and what he’s all about. That’s what life is about. To be able to go through a journey, be in a challenging place, a challenging moment, be able to be at peace."

That peace, Amato said, comes from Bowden's faith as a devout Baptist. Amato attended the funeral of Bowden's grandson in 2004 and remembers what the legendary coach said in his eulogy that day.

"When I die, I won't be in that casket," Bowden said as he pointed to the sky. "I'll already be up there."

Follow David Thompson on Twitter @daveth89.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Former Florida State coach shares poignant goodbye with Bobby Bowden