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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Bobby Bowden: I had prostate cancer

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was secretly treated for prostate cancer before the 2007 season and has been in remission for four-plus years.

Bowden, who was forced into retirement after the 2009 season, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2007, after FSU doctors gave him an annual physical exam. After undergoing a biopsy and ultrasound later that month, Bowden was treated with brachytherapy, a form of internal radiation, which places a radiation source inside or next to malignant tissue.

Bowden, 81, said he wanted to keep his condition private because he didn't want to deflect attention away from his team. He also was concerned that his health would be used against him in recruiting by rival coaches.

"I didn't say anything because of coaching," Bowden said. "In recruiting, if people find out you have some kind of problem, they're going to magnify it. If you have cancer, they're going to make it sound like you're dying. It would have been all over the country."

Bowden They wanted someone who had been through it, and I'm a survivor. ... I'm trying to make people more aware of it. Men need to talk to their doctors.

-- Bobby Bowden, on serving
as cancer awareness spokesman

Bowden, who guided the Seminoles to national championships in 1993 and 1999, said his wife, Ann, their children and his doctors were the only people who were aware of his condition. He never told then-FSU president T.K. Wetherell or then-athletics director Dave Hart that he had cancer.

Wetherell, who resigned as FSU's president in 2010, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003.

"I never said anything about it," Bowden said. "I never made a big deal out of telling the [FSU] president or athletics director."

Bowden said he decided to reveal his health scare now to raise awareness about prostate cancer, which inflicts about one in six men. He is serving as a spokesman for the On The Line campaign, a cancer education initiative, which encourages men to talk to their doctors about prostate cancer. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN men's basketball analyst Digger Phelps and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews are also spokespersons for the campaign.

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

"I'm glad to do it because I've been through it," Bowden said. "They wanted someone who had been through it, and I'm a survivor. It inflicts more men than breast cancer inflicts women, but men don't talk about it. I'm trying to make people more aware of it. Men need to talk to their doctors."

Bowden said an annual physical saved his life.

"I feel good," Bowden said. "If the doctors hadn't told me I had it, I probably would have never known."

Dr. Joseph L. Camps Jr., who was a defensive back and senior captain on Bowden's first team at Florida State in 1976, completed the brachytherapy procedure on Bowden at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in April 2007.

"We took him to surgery in the middle of the night and shut down a wing of the hospital," said Camps, who also is a member of Florida State's Board of Trustees. "We identified him as 'Robert B' and then treated him through outpatient treatment."

Camps said he was grateful Bowden didn't suffer complications from the procedure because he wanted his former coach's condition to remain private.

"I was so happy because he didn't want it publicized at the time," Camps said. "I felt very confident that we could do the procedure. I just didn't want any complications. I didn't want people wondering where he was or if he was having problems. He didn't turn a hair, and I was very happy with it. That just made everything better."

Current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who worked as Bowden's offensive coordinator in 2007, said he never knew Bowden was sick.

"I had no idea," said Fisher, who replaced Bowden as FSU's coach in 2010. "He never said anything to the staff. I had no idea anything was wrong with him. I wish I had known because I care about the man."

Camps said Bowden, who also suffers from Type 2 diabetes, otherwise is in very good health. Bowden has spent the past two years traveling the country publicizing his recent memoir, "Called To Coach," and speaking to Fellowship of Christian Athletes groups and other organizations.

Bowden, whose 377 career victories rank second among major college football coaches, will get to coach in one more game. Bowden and Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger will coach in the inaugural Battle of Florida North vs. South Collegiate All-Star Game at Florida Atlantic Stadium on Jan. 21.

"He's done very well," Camps said. "He's in remarkable health and he's really healthy."

Mark Schlabach is a college football writer for ESPN.com.