A Football and Writing Life, Intertwined

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©Erik Unge/Crain’s Chicago Business

Matt Bowen (BA ’99) had played football his entire life. But in his first NFL start, he couldn’t stop his legs from shaking. There he was at Texas Stadium. And there they were, right across from him—Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys.

Almost a decade later, a retired Bowen sat awaiting his first radio appearance for “670 The Score” in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune had given him some space in the paper, and now the station he grew up listening to was going to allow him on its airwaves.

“I could barely hold the phone. I could barely talk,” Bowen said. “But just like playing safety in the National Football League, it eventually became second nature.”

Bowen isn’t the type to shy away from challenges—or deny the struggle in them. His first son was born with Down syndrome. Along with his wife, he credits the struggles he faced and overcame during his football career for getting him through them.

“Without football, I think I would have reacted differently to my son having special needs,” Bowen said. “Football allowed me to draw back on those tough experiences and get through them.”

Bowen’s First Byline

Before Kinnick Stadium’s PA system ever rang out “Tackle by Matt Bowen,” avid readers on campus saw his column “Inside Iowa Football” in The Daily Iowan. Every Tuesday throughout college, Bowen provided an insider’s perspective to the student body. He even covered the track team for the paper in the spring. “

Having that Daily Iowan experience coming out of college helped me tremendously,” Bowen said.

When the legendary coach Hayden Fry retired in 1998 after 19 years, The Daily Iowan was able to publish a reaction from a player’s perspective.

“Back then, you actually had to read the paper,” Bowen said. “That was the coolest thing in Iowa City. Everyone read the DI. To have your byline in there was pretty special.”

Hawkeye safety Matt Bowen provided unique perspective as DI columnist.
Hawkeye safety Matt Bowen provided unique
perspective as DI columnist.

 

As Dedicated in the Classroom as on the Field

Bowen was a special student-athlete. He dedicated himself equally to his journalism studies, the DI, and football. Kate Corcoran, a former adjunct professor and editor of the Iowa Journalist, was always impressed with Bowen’s dedication to writing.

“Matt was a highly intelligent and hardworking student. He was already a good writer when I met him,” Corcoran said. “I pushed him to join the DI. NCAA regulations forbade him from receiving the small compensation staffers received, so he worked as an unpaid intern.”

In Bowen’s senior year, and Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s first year, Bowen recorded 109 tackles and two interceptions. He was first team All-Big Ten and a second team All-American.

NFL Survival

Bowen was drafted 198th in the 2000 NFL draft. The 198th pick is usually a forgettable slot, except for in 2000. That year, a quarterback out of Michigan was drafted 199th. His name was Tom Brady. Though not as notable as Brady’s, Bowen’s career was immensely successful for a pick that late in the draft. He went on to play in the league for seven years for the St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins, and Buffalo Bills. As always, Bowen continued to write. On Tuesday, his day off from football, he would designate time to do so. While playing, Bowen wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Washington Times, and the Niagra Gazette.

Bowen finished his NFL career with 165 tackles and four interceptions. The man drafted after him in 2000, Tom Brady, was the victim of one of the four.

 

Coach Matt Bowen leads his high school team to a state championship.
Coach Matt Bowen leads his high school
team to a state championship.

 

That Was Then, This is Now

Bowen now works as a full-time writer for ESPN. He writes about fantasy football and the strategic side of the game, often tweeting tidbits on Sundays to his 83,500 followers. He also coaches part time for IC Catholic Prep school in Elmhurst, Illinois. As a father of four boys, a full-time writer, and a parttime football coach, Bowen doesn’t have a lot of free time, but that’s okay with him. His favorite football moment came recently when IC Catholic Prep won an Illinois State Championship. “I played on a lot of good teams in my career, but was never a champion,” he said. “To be a part of a championship team meant so much.”

Chris Gall, a teammate of Bowen’s with the Green Bay Packers, isn’t at all surprised by Bowen’s success in any facet of life post-NFL. “His subtle humor and quick wit is why we became friends in Green Bay,” Gall said. “One of the first things he ever told me was about his journalism work at Iowa.”