A group of Central High School fans seated in the front row of Lucas Oil Stadium greeted Mike Owen when he strolled onto the field with the team.
“It’s so good to see you, Mike,” one of them said.
“It’s nice to be here,” he replied. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Owen was all smiles for Friday’s Class 4A state championship game between Central (Evansville, Ind.) and Bishop Dwenger (Fort Wayne, Ind.)
His father, Archie, was a head coach at Bosse for 22 years. Mike then was Central’s head coach from 1986-2006. His son, Andy, succeeded him and coached the Bears through last year. None of them had coached in a state championship game before Friday.
“Mike is Central football,” Central’s first-year coach Troy Burgess said. “To have him be able to be a part of this is very special to all of us.”
Central lost a heartbreaker 16-10 in four overtimes, but Owen truly was happy to be there. A couple of months ago, that might not have seemed possible.
Owen wasn’t going to miss Friday’s state championship for anything – not even his ongoing battle with leukemia. He’s in between rounds of chemotherapy, so he has been able to continue life as he knows it: coaching.
“Right now, I’m doing great, to be honest,” he said. “Coaching keeps me going.”
Every season, Central has worked toward playing for a state championship. But it wasn’t until this group came around that the Bears have been able to make a deep postseason run. They hadn’t won a regional or semistate until this fall. Owen has endured all the ups and downs since he took over in ’86 when they were coming off a winless season.
“When I got the job, they said we’d never win,” he said. “Well, we proved them wrong. I think we’ve been pretty formidable the last 15, 16 years.”
Owen’s mother, Louise, died on Sept. 7 and he then collapsed during her funeral. That led to the discovery of his leukemia, which also forced him to miss his first Central football games in 40 years. He instead listened to them on the radio at home with his family.
“I hated that,” he said.
That’s why it was so special for him to spend Friday afternoon inside the coaches’ box for a monumental day in school history. He has been at every postseason game to help coach the defense from above.
“Just being around the guys and the coaches is a big help,” he said. “But I will say, wow, Central High School, the Central community and the whole city of Evansville have given me so many prayers. I really, really appreciate it.”