Bowman retires as legend on the field, leader in the community
by Brandon Siegler

The following is a tribute to John Bowman, former Wingate University All-American and one of the best players ever in the Canadian Football League. It was written by his former teammate Dr. Brandon Siegler ’01, a member of Wingate’s Board of Visitors, who took in an Alouettes game and visited with Bowman over the summer. Bowman retired as a player after the 2019 season.

Every football team practices a two-minute offense each week. Monotonous, repetitive and exhausting, the drill is meant to prepare teams for the speed of the game. In this drill, the offense doesn’t huddle, which means the linemen have a few seconds in between each play to talk to the other side. In short bursts of four- to five-second conversations, one gets to know his teammates better and form bonds that will last a lifetime.

Little did I know, as a senior offensive lineman, that the freshman lineman I faced daily would go on to become a prolific pass rusher for the Bulldogs, a future member of the Wingate University Sports Hall of Fame and one of the most renowned defenders in the history of the Canadian Football League. What I remember most about John Bowman ’05 was not his football ability (it was obvious that he was going to be a great player) but instead the positive attitude and remarkable character he showed on a daily basis.

John Bowman on the sidelines

Photos courtesy of the Montreal Alouettes

 

An All-American and All-SAC defensive lineman, John came to Wingate from Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham, N.C. After his collegiate career, he played arena football in places such as Sioux City, Iowa, and Rome, Georgia, before receiving an opportunity to play outdoor football in a city that welcomed him as one of its own. In turn, he would give Montreal years of devoted service and eventually become one of the greatest Montreal Alouettes to ever wear their uniform. Over the course of his 14-year career, John became a devastating force, recording 451 tackles and 134 sacks. He is among the top 10 all-time in league history in both categories. He also was a multiple-time CFL All-Star and won two CFL Grey Cup championships, in 2009 and 2010.

In late June 2019, a family vacation to Canada provided me with an opportunity to catch up with a longtime friend. My family was not alone in watching John this day, as his brothers had traveled to Montreal as well to support him. When the game started against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, John was tasked with keeping their athletic quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, contained. One early play saw John get double-teamed as the Tiger-Cats attempted to run to the outside. Despite having his helmet ripped off by an opposing lineman during the play, John defeated the two blockers and made the tackle. The highlight of the game came when Masoli attempted to scramble away from the pocket and thought he had an angle on the veteran defender trying to keep him corralled. John exploded from the edge of the line and ran down the former Ole Miss quarterback, bringing the Tiger-Cats’ drive to an end.

John Bowman on the field for the Montreal Alouettes

After the Alouettes’ win, reporters interviewed John, teammates hugged him and children wanted his autograph. John emerged from the darkness of the parking lot looking like a man who had just been in a battle, but he still found the energy to greet me with a welcoming smile. Countless fans trickled by and congratulated him on his success. One little boy thanked “Mr. Bowman” and stood there until he had an opportunity to shake John’s hand. We talked about the longevity of his career. Despite being scratched and clawed from nearly three hours of battling, one could see that the love of the game still flowed through him. He remarked how blessed he was to have had such a long, storied career.

John does more for Montreal than just bring them exciting football. As a young man growing up in New York who experienced the impact a helping hand can have, John told himself if he ever had the opportunity to help others, he would. Being a full-time resident of Montreal, he is an active member of the community and works to give back to the city. Earlier this year, John received the Montreal Community Cares Award, given each year to members of the community who help to improve the lives of others.

Through the Alouettes’ “Together at School” program, John visits local schools to interact with the students and help them deal with many of the challenges facing young adults today. John has also supported charities such as the Goal Initiatives Foundation, intended to raise money to support youth sports programs in Montreal. 

In 2018, as John contemplated whether to return for one more season, he told his team: “I don’t need to be in the limelight all the time. I just want to go out there and play football.” Those are the humble words of a man who still loves every snap and understands that each practice, bus ride or team activity is a chance to have an impact on the young men he is now mentoring, many of whom grew up watching him play on the television.

One of his teammates described him as “the glue of the D-Line room, reliable, approachable and transparent.” They are blessed to have a man of such high character around them, but it is character that I recognized nearly 20 years ago from a young defensive lineman on the football fields of Wingate University.

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