The 2019 season belonged to – and always will belong to – Lynn Bowden. Kentucky’s wide receiver-turned-quarterback not only salvaged the Wildcats’ season, but he transformed it into something special, something fun and something unforgettable. The Cats ended the year with an 8-5 record, good for Mark Stoops’ fourth-consecutive season boasting seven or more wins and his second-straight bowl game victory.
But the most memorable part of this season isn’t necessarily the final record, or even the outcomes and performances in the individual games themselves. Instead, it was about grit. It was about resilience. It was about saying “come see about it,” and then showing up with something worth seeing.
There’s no one on this team – or maybe in all of college football right now – that exhibits those same characteristics more than Lynn Bowden. When Terry Wilson left the field for the final time this year with a season-ending injury, many players (and fans) could have hung their heads in defeat. I’m sure many did. The Cats fell to Florida – again – the very next week. Before you knew it, Kentucky had also fallen to Mississippi State and South Carolina, creating a 2-3 record. Despite knowing this season would be a bit of a “rebuild” for the Cats, that kind of start – combined with multiple injuries on both sides of the ball – was nothing short of disheartening.
Still, Lynn Bowden kept believing. He kept showing up to practice, to the weight room and to games with his head held high and his heart set on one thing: winning. Time and time again, Bowden proved he still believed in what he could do – in what this team could do. He was the one who set the example.
What an example he set.
Bowden is listed at 6-foot-1, 199 pounds, and yet he never once backed down from opposing defenses. He continued to put his body on the line for the Cats, despite the fact the NFL will almost certainly not draft him as a quarterback. Alongside the wide receivers, he was the definition of selfless.
Even after the antics of this week, including confrontations at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and pre-game “scuffles” with Virginia Tech, Lynn Bowden continued to play fearlessly at the quarterback position. More than that, he returned the first punt of the game. That’s something that would be an insane idea to almost any other player or to any other fan base, but the BBN nodded, chuckled and said “that’s Lynn Bowden.”
He was the one that didn’t even have to play in the bowl game, but he still suited up and left with 233 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground to go along with 73 yards and – get this – one touchdown in the air. His final play of the day, a throw to Josh Ali for the game-winning touchdown, was apparently an audible. Of course it was. Did any of us really expect Lynn Bowden, of all people, to sit on the bench during his final chance to put on that blue-and-white uniform? Bowden credited the example set by Josh Allen and Benny Snell’s participation in last year’s bowl game, and now Bowden has continued that precedent for Kentucky’s star(s) in 2020 and beyond – whoever that may be.
Bowden’s presence will linger in more ways than one with this program, because it’s not just his decision to play in the post-season, his name etched throughout the record books or even his incredible ability to step into a position he hadn’t played since high school that will define his time at Kentucky. It’s not just his team’s final record, even though it’s one of the program’s best in recent years. It’s not even his ability to bring the Governor’s Cup and the Belk Bowl trophy to the Commonwealth.
It’s his attitude – on and off the field. It’s his maturation process, from a freshman with a rough hometown and a hard childhood who spent a little too much time on Twitter, into a grown man who fought to win games for his team and provide for his young son. It’s his ability to step up and lead a locker room, one that was originally supposed to “belong” to someone else entirely. It’s someone who consistently gave credit to his offensive line, and someone who owned up to his own mistakes. It’s someone who got up, hit after hit, and continued to push himself and those around him. He stared adversity in the eyes and spit in its face.
He started “come see about it,” a phrase I expect will live on in Kentucky football lingo for a long, long time. I know I saw it, and I’m so thankful I did.
In 2019, I learned a lot from Lynn Bowden. I hope you did, too.