Elizabethport, NJ may have undergone a major facelift since Todd Bowles was a child, but the Jets head coach hasn't changed much at all. The community celebrated Saturday as they renamed their sports park the Todd Bowles Waterfront Sports Complex. And the native son — a 52-year-old man who friends say largely remains unchanged since his adolescence — continued to point to others for his personal and professional successes.
"This whole neighborhood raised me and is part of this field today," Bowles said. "And since Migliore Manner and Pioneer Homes aren't here right now, this is all a part of what we built growing up."
Elizabethport, also known as the Port or E-Port, stretches from 7th Street to the Newark Bay. When Bowles was a child in Elizabeth's housing projects, Elizabethport was an industrial waterfront. But now the area down on Front Street has a marina with recreational fields.
"This looks nice now, this environment, but it was really gritty and grimy when we were growing up," said Bowles' childhood friend Anthony Rose. "Those were housing projects in back of us instead of the townhouses, and there was a lot of crime and a lot of negativity and we were able to rise from it and do well. I just think he wants to give people hope that if you focus and you work hard, you'll be able to achieve the things you need to achieve."
On this beautiful Saturday afternoon, children played on inflatables on one field while the Elizabeth HS cheerleaders and marching band performed on another. Elizabeth mayor Chris Bollwage, New Jersey senator Raymond Lesniak, councilwoman at-large Patricia Perkins-Auguste and first ward councilman Carlos Torres were on hand as Bowles was given the Keys to Elizabeth and presented with the city seal.
The Todd Bowles Waterfront Sports Complex Officially Dedicated in Elizabeth, N.J.; Head Coach Also Receives Key to City
"Everything comes full circle for a reason," Bowles said. "I miss the Pioneer Homes and the Migliore Manner, but I think everybody's doing a great job with the community they built and the field they built down here that we never had."
With his wife, Taneka, and his three sons sitting on stage to Bowles' right, the second-year Jets head coach was also supported by more than 30 team staffers. Taneka is a very active member of the Elizabeth community through holiday meal programs, assistance with special needs children and even helping provide students with dresses for the prom.
"You know what's important about Taneka and Todd is they give back to the community without fanfare, without a lot of adulation," said Bollwage. "Taneka and Todd have been here for the kids of Elizabeth, and I think they're going to continue to help the kids of our community grow and succeed in the future."
Bowles' two eldest sons — Todd Jr. and Troy — presented Elizabeth Public Schools with a $25,000 check from the family.
"Watching everybody talk about the history with Todd and his family and what they have done with this community was just outstanding," said Jets GM Mike Maccagnan. "It even choked me up a little bit when I saw Todd get up there and talk. Just knowing what a good person he is, all the things he overcame to get to where he is today and then to give back to his community."
Humble by nature, Bowles is proud of his roots. The man who called home on 2nd and Pine credits not only his late mother Joan, who worked for the Board of Education in Elizabeth, but many others for delivering the most profound of life's lessons.
"My mother raised me and taught me right from wrong," he said. "But you have so many mothers in the neighborhood that if you're out of line, they can say something too. There were a ton of those here today. And the guys you grew up with and you compete with every day in street ball to help build character and help build technique and beat you down to the ground - a lot of those guys were here today."
Saturday in Elizabethport carried meaning way beyond the renaming of a sports complex.
"You have a guy who has reached the pinnacle of success in his chosen field," said Bollwage. "That gives young people the hope for the future in whatever field they choose whether it be sports, whether it be medicine or politics or education. It's important for people to recognize they can achieve greatness."
Bowles achieved by keeping his head down and using his energy for activity. He has always walked the walk and what started in Elizabethport brought him to Florham Park last year.
"He was always really focused. As a kid, he was big brother to me. I'm two years younger than Todd, so I played high school football under him," said Rose, who played collegiately at Purdue. "He's always been a focused and a driven guy, always about business. He's still the same guy — he's just a little older."
In Elizabethport, Todd is Todd. Not one to bask in the spotlight, Bowles quickly finished his media obligations following the lengthy formal presentation and returned to his family and friends. So while it might be named the Todd Bowles Waterfront Sports Complex, those fields still belong to the neighborhood who raised him.
"It's just a lot of excitement here in Elizabeth," Rose said. "Everybody is pulling for Todd, everybody is behind him, everybody wants him to succeed and everybody is just proud of him."