I did not know Jack Bowman. I never met him, never talked to him. Mine is a vicarious reverence for this man who dedicated much of his career to the advancement of arena and indoor football.
It is only through the recollections of others that I’ve come to understand the depth of Bowman’s lifetime achievements, and they are impressive. In 2005 he was inducted into the American Football Association’s Minor League Football Hall of Fame as both a coach and executive. Two years later, he became National Director of the American Indoor Football Association, whose seminal 2007 season was perhaps the most successful in arena football outside the AFL/AF2 to that point. That year the AIFA played all 112 scheduled games and televised its national championship and all-star games, an accomplishment that would launch a national expansion and foray into regional broadcasting. In 2010, he signed a broadcast deal with AMGTV, which reached 40 million households at the time. He continued as National Director of the successor American Indoor Football, where he did double-duty as President and GM during the Cape Fear Heroes’ first two seasons, including their 9-0 championship year in 2012. Then, in 2016, he joined forces with longtime friend Tony Zefiretto, and the two co-founded Arena Pro Football.
“I first met Jack in the spring of 2002,” Zefiretto recalls. “He was the General Manager of the Myrtle Beach Stingrays and I was the Assistant GM of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans [minor league baseball franchise]. We worked together throughout the years. Jack and I had the same philosophy in wanting to change an industry that has absorbed a lot of negative publicity. When we decided to start the Arena Pro Football league, one of our many visions was to help teams and owners succeed.”
One of those owners was Gregg Fornario, who was looking to launch his first professional football team and approached Bowman that same year.
“I told [Jack] I was interested in putting a professional arena football team in a league,” says Fornario. “I was blind of the business and he helped me find an arena, which is the reason I put a team in Richmond. From there, he helped me every step of the way. Even when I was looking to start my own league I [notified] him first because I respected him. After being in the business three years, I still asked him for advice.”
In the APF’s one-and-done 2017 season, Bowman and Zefiretto formed an alliance with CAN-AM Indoor Football that became the foundation of the American Arena League. Only three teams from this alliance would initially join the new AAL, which was an amalgamation mixed from four separate leagues along with four expansion teams, a feat in itself. Although the CAN-AM-champion Vermont Bucks never made the move, former head coach Ervin Bryson did.
“I was young and had just won a national championship in my first year as a head coach,” recalls Bryson, the Carolina Energy’s second-year coach. “I get this call from Jack Bowman [and he says,] ‘I hear you’re the next up-and-coming coach. Come meet me and interview to be HC.’ We had a great time and he said, ‘If you do this I’ll teach you everything about arena ball.’ The rest is history. We became great friends. He is the reason I know how to find great talent – know their story, then decide if they fit your system.”
Carolina Havoc GM Steve Smith met Bowman for the first time at the AAL’s all-star game in Florence last August, which is surprising given that Smith has been in arena football since the age of 19 and the two often ran in the same circles.
“I had heard his name for years and finally got a chance to sit down with him,” says Smith. “We had lots to talk about how this game could be better. His conversations were never shorter than 30 minutes. Jack would always take the time to listen.”
The Havoc were the first team to publicly honor Bowman with a moment of silence before last Saturday’s game at the Florence Center and for Smith, who also handled play-by-play duties for the Rock FMS broadcast, the occasion had special significance.
“Jack was a firm believer in football in the Pee Dee [region of South Carolina], and of how good of a market Florence could be. His loss is particularly hard here. He was a good man, well-liked and well-respected in the industry.”
All three AAL venues will be honoring Bowman before their games this weekend. In West Virginia, Fornario has announced a moment of silence before Saturday’s Roughriders game at the WesBanco Arena. New England Bobcats owner Cynthia Hudson will do the same at the Driscoll Arena in Fall River, Massachusetts. The Georgia Doom, who attribute their membership in the AAL to Bowman, are planning a ceremony honoring his life at the Macon Centreplex, followed by a moment of silence.
Beyond this weekend, Fornario is also having helmet stickers distributed to each team as a tribute to Bowman. Earlier this week, Zefiretto announced the AAL’s championship trophy will be renamed the Jack Bowman Trophy.
In life, Bowman was a reserved and unassuming man who worked diligently at making others’ lives better. He’ll undoubtedly be looking down on this weekend’s tributes, and from the little I know of him he’ll be uncomfortable with all the fuss. But is a time for us, an opportunity to mourn our loss, and I’m sure he’d be only too happy to help out once again.
“At 6’6″, he was truly a gentle giant,” says Zefiretto. “I have received non-stop communications from people who have been touched by Jack. That in itself says volumes about the type of person he was.”
Jack’s family has indicated that memorial contributions can be made to Transitions LifeCare, 250 Hospice Circle, Raleigh NC 27606.