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The Jets' David Bowens Has Talent to Spare

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  • The Jets' David Bowens Has Talent to Spare

    Courtesy New York Times via

    Josh Haner/The New York Times
    David Bowens, whose favorite movie comedy is “Kingpin,” said he would give Eric Mangini his truck if the coach beat him at bowling.

    Published: November 8, 2008

    LINDEN, N.J. — Bowling ball in hand, Jets linebacker David Bowens stands as far back in the lane as possible, his right foot in front and his left tilted just so. He takes two slow steps, then three quick ones. His arm whips forward.

    Rick Stewart/Getty Images
    Bowens, closing in on Fred Jackson of the Bills, has become a leader for the Jets.

    The ball picks up speed as it rolls down the right side before turning sharply into the pins. Bowens does this with such force that the pins bounce across the lane like bodies smashing into one another on the football field. For a man who makes his living in collisions, he has found only one thing that compares to the feeling of a sack.

    The feeling of a strike.

    “He’s nice,” Jets receiver David Clowney said, describing Bowens on the lanes. “I’m talking real nice.”

    While the N.F.L. is filled with Pro Bowlers, Bowens is the Jets’ pro bowler.
    He carries a bowling suitcase so large it would not fit in an overhead compartment. At his disposal are four balls of different weights and colors. His favorite movie comedy is “Kingpin.”

    Through all of his stops in the league — Denver, Green Bay, Miami, New York — bowling has been his constant, his little piece of home. He loves the individuality of the sport, the way he can blame or praise only himself, the way the game shapes and humbles him.

    Bowens, a 31-year-old with gray flecks in his closely cropped hair, has become one of the Jets’ leaders with the confidence he culled from bowling and with the lessons imparted from his stepfather, Frank Williams, a 62-year-old former professional bowler.

    “David’s obviously a very competitive person,” said his girlfriend, Lisa Perry. “He learned that from his father. He learned everything from him. And he takes that to the alley and to the field.”

    The house where Bowens grew up in Michigan was filled with bowling balls and bowling trophies, and pictures of Williams, the best bowler in a family that takes its bowling seriously.

    Bowens insists his stepfather resembles the old sitcom character George Jefferson in the photographs, with his polyester bellbottoms, wide-collared shirts and thinning Afro. Whenever Bowens walked by the pictures as a teenager, he would pause to marvel at and mimic his father’s form.
    “I idolized everything he did,” Bowens said. “And that got me into bowling.”

    Here at Jersey Lanes last month, Bowens watched a group of older men gathered around a counter, sipping coffee and talking shop. It reminded him of Fiero Lanes in Pontiac — nothing fancy, no flat-screen televisions hanging from the walls. It reminded him of the man he still calls Pops. He refers to Williams as his father, not as a stepfather.

    “I wish my dad was here,” he said, meaning Jersey Lanes instead of back home. “He could coach me.”

    Bowens had a confusing early childhood. His birth mother put him and his sister up for adoption, and he bounced from foster home to foster home until he was adopted by Yvonne and Walter Bowens at age 6. Walter died from a heart attack a year later.

    Bowens said he spent that period of his life searching for an identity. He found one in the man he idolized, in Williams, who married his mother when Bowens was 10.

    Williams bowled professionally in the early 1980s, traveling to places like Corpus Christi, Tex., and Wichita, Kan., to compete in tournaments. He was sponsored by Slick 50, which provided bowling balls with his name inscribed on them, clothes and limousine rides to airports. He bowled four perfect games.

    After retiring from the tour, Williams still bowled continuously until his knees betrayed him. He later worked as a supervisor at General Motors and owned a construction company. But each day, after business ended, he went straight to Fiero Lanes.

    Bowens and his five siblings tagged along, watching the adults talk trash, or honing their own form on adjacent lanes. From Williams, Bowens took the competitive fire, the work ethic, the favorite sport.
    While his siblings turned to other hobbies as they grew older, Bowens never left the bowling alley.

    “That was his spot,” Taiwan, his older brother, said. “Him and Dad.”
    Bowens watched other bowlers on TV and tried their different forms. But he kept returning to the style he had picked up from the pictures of his father, which he described as “like shooting a layup underhanded, real fluid, smooth, effortless.”

    Friends started mistaking Bowens for his father. Both spoke in baritone. Perry said they shared the mannerisms, the same facial expressions. If she did not know, she would never have guessed that Bowens had been adopted.

    Even now, when Bowens calls his mother, she sometimes thinks she is talking to her husband.

    “We have a lot of similarities, without having the same blood,” Bowens said.

    Bowens recently took Perry to Michigan for a visit. She watched the tapes and heard the stories and noticed something different about her boyfriend. He was uncharacteristically silent, hanging on every word Pops said. The Jets listen to Bowens the same way.

    Pops attended every event his son competed in. He watched Bowens beat the N.B.A. pro Shane Battier in a national high school slam-dunk competition, watched him win the state long jump title with a 23-foot leap and set the season sack record at Michigan.

    Williams filmed everything. He estimates he still has 300 to 400 tapes around the house.

    “There wasn’t much David couldn’t do,” Williams said.
    Except match Pops in bowling.

    Bowens once rolled a 279, hitting nine strikes in a row before missing on the first throw in the 10th frame. His father called that game the worst score a man could bowl — so close, yet so far — and Bowens agreed. He kicked the ball return after missing and nearly broke his toe.

    He possessed a natural hook, even at age 10, along with the competitiveness he learned from Pops. Bowens often forced Taiwan, who lives with him in South Florida, into marathon bowling sessions at an alley near the Dolphins’ training facility.

    They usually bowled on Wednesdays, often with his fellow Dolphins Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, usually until 1 a.m., always with something on the line.

    Bowens once lost $500, but most of the bets did not involve money. One time, Taiwan had to eat a tablespoon of dog food. Other times, the loser had to jump in the pool, fully clothed.

    “He threw me in once,” Taiwan said. “I’m soaked, drenched, cold, freezing. And he’s sitting there laughing.”

    Teammates tease Bowens about his bowling obsession. In fact, when he arrived at Coach Eric Mangini’s charity bowling tournament last spring, he scored a 122. Mangini compared it to golfers with the best equipment who still “shoot as bad as I do.”

    “He didn’t actually perform when he had the chance in bowling,” Mangini said.

    But the good-natured ribbing from his coach has not dented Bowens’s confidence.

    “If you beat me,” he said at Jersey Lanes, “I’ll let you have my truck.”

    This confidence allows Bowens to dream of a day when he is retired from football and following in his father’s footsteps.

    He has been in talks with the Professional Bowlers Association about doing television analysis during the football off-season. But he takes it one step further, adding that with a little more consistency, he could become a professional, just like Pops.

    His teammates agree. Williams does not seem so sure.

    “Let me tell you something,” he said. “Those guys on tour would eat him like he’s a popcorn sandwich. They’d chew him up.”

    But later, Williams added, “If he really sticks to it, he might be all right.”
    Back at Jersey Lanes, Bowens was off to a slow start. He failed to break 200 in any of the first three games. He started the fourth game with five strikes, thanks mostly to a man named Jimmy Charles, a 63-year-old from Elizabeth, N.J., who gave Bowens advice just the way his father would have.

    After Bowens scored a 235, despite a gutter ball on the 10th frame, he thanked his temporary coach.

    “Man, that reminded me of my dad,” he said.

    To which Williams responded, “Tell him I never threw a gutter ball.”
    Last edited by BowlingTracker; 02-25-2009, 10:14 AM.

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