ELIZABETH, N.J. — The housing projects Todd Bowles once called home no longer stand. But his legacy will live on in his hometown for years to come.
On Saturday, the city of Elizabeth honored the Jets’ coach by renaming one of its fields the “Todd Bowles Waterfront Sports Complex.”
“To come here and see how this place has grown, it’s very humbling,” Bowles said after the dedication ceremony, which lasted nearly an hour. “Usually when you get something named after you, you’re close to the end. Hopefully that doesn’t mean I’m retiring or getting ready to croak,” he said, smiling.
Several city and state officials spoke during the event, including Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and New Jersey state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak. The speakers credited Bowles for being an inspiration to the young people of Elizabeth.
“One of the biggest attributes of a role model is the ability to inspire others, and I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this dedication,” Bollwage told the hundreds in attendance. “He will always be a part of our community, and it is with great honor that the city of Elizabeth renames this field after him.”
Bowles said the turf field looks nothing like the space he remembers from his childhood.
“This was all dirt and grass and weeds,” said the coach, who was raised in the Pioneer Homes across the street from where the field now stands. “It wasn’t a place that you could run through freely most of the time. It was mostly mud, so . . . having a turf field down here and a place that these guys can go out and play and run free and be safe is very nice.”
In typical fashion, Bowles shared the spotlight with those around him — family members who flew in from out of town, members of the community who had a hand in raising him and the many friends and former teammates who were by his side throughout his college career at Temple, his playing days with the Washington Redskins and now as coach of the Jets.
“I had no idea,” said Bowles, who graduated from Elizabeth High School in 1981. “I was doing what I’ve always done. For them to do something like this for me says a lot.”
Even with the NFL Draft less than a week away, close to 30 Jets staffers were on hand to support their head coach, including general manager Mike Maccagnan and his wife, Betty, director of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger and senior director of college scouting Rex Hogan.
And on a day when Bowles was being honored, he and his wife, Taneka, found another way to give back to the city, donating a $25,000 check to the Elizabeth Public Schools’ Special Olympics projects.
Carlos Torres, councilman of Elizabeth’s First Ward, said: “Not only is coach Bowles a true visionary who will always be synonymous with Elizabeth High School, he is proof that if you work hard and believe in your dreams, they will come true.”