Lynn Bowden Jr. is free (look out, NFL)

The Raiders gave up on the most electrifying player in college football. They never understood him as a player or as a person. Now, in Miami, he’s going to make them pay.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Ring the doorbell once… twice… three times… and there’s no response.

Ricochet a rat-a-tat chorus of knocks on that front door and, still, there’s nary a peep on the other side.

For a good 15 minutes, it appears nobody’s home here in this cul-de-sac. Until, finally, Lynn Bowden Jr. appears. And Lynn Bowden Jr. is every young Dad in America.

His voice is groggy. His eyes are weary. His gait? Sluggish. Wearing sweats and a pair of buffalo plaid slippers that read “PAPA” and “BEAR,” the 23-year-old welcomes you into his home where he and his longtime girlfriend Mikayla Finley are raising four-year-old Lynn III and three-month-old Nami. Clearly, Bowden is in full-fledged, survive-and-advance #DadMode. Just look around. It’s mid-March and the family’s Christmas tree is still up because, hey, raising two kids at two totally different stages of life consumes every millisecond of every day.  

On the coffee table, there’s one of Lynn III’s Paw Patrol Crocs and one of Nami’s clean diapers. A candle fills the air with a sweet, sweet coconut vanilla scent.

Up on the TV screen, a Netflix home screen is queued up. Bowden agrees that the singalong show, “Cocomelon,” has some sort of hypnotizing effect on kids but his son loves the movie “Monster House” most. And don’t even think about going into Lynn III’s bedroom. Dad promises it’s nothing but a disaster of toys.

Life is crazy but life is sweet.

A boy and a girl? “The best of both worlds,” he says.

Bowden sprawls out on his leather sectional sofa and points toward his backyard.

Outside, he has a brand-new Jugs machine he purchased through the Miami Dolphins himself for $4,000. His longest streak without a drop? Sixty-five straight. Back there, he’s morphing himself into one of the true hidden gems in pro football. Back there, is where he soaks in Dad life, too. He nailed in a basketball hoop for his son. And since it gets so insanely hot down here in South Florida, Dad went to Home Depot to buy a huge spotlight so they can shoot hoops at night.

His kids are at the forefront of his mind — always — because Bowden knows precisely where he’d be if Lynn III was not born his senior year of high school.

“Dead or in jail,” he says. “To be honest.”

Life is dark in Youngstown, Ohio. Wander into his neighborhood today? “You’re not going to make it out tonight,” he explains. Have a future? “Everybody’s going to be shooting for you.” And Bowden, of course, was a local legend. Bowden was destined for greatness from the day he scored his first touchdown ever at five years old. He still remembers running 80 yards to the end zone with his pants falling down.

Into his teenage years, he was heading the wrong way. Fast. The streets could’ve gripped Lynn Jr. for good.

Then, his son was born. Then, he told himself: “I can’t be a failure.”

Then, he busted out as the most electrifying player in college football at Kentucky.  

He was drafted 80th overall in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft and… then? The Las Vegas Raiders completely gave up on Bowden. In arguably the most bizarre transaction of 2020, GM Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden shipped Bowden off to the Miami Dolphins for chump change. You never see this. You never see an NFL team flatly give up on a third-round pick before even seeing that pick play one down of live football with hardly any explanation to the player himself.

Here, Bowden shares his side of the story. The Raiders didn’t only fail to understand Lynn Bowden Jr, the player. They failed to understand Lynn Bowden Jr., the person. While Gruden and Mayock never confronted Bowden themselves, Bowden knows they thought his Youngstown past was still tugging at him. Still haunting him. And to be this misunderstood stings because Bowden knows for a fact he outran his past long ago.

In 2021, he plans to make the Raiders pay as a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins.

He’s free. What a liberating feeling that is.

Mark it down: The Lynn Bowden Jr. you saw dominate the SEC will return this season, and then some. He knows he’s about to bring a ton of joy to his family.

Many mornings, Bowden wakes up, looks around his home and whispers nothing but “Damn…” to himself with quiet pride. The pool outside. The sparkling white kitchen. The family portraits decorating the walls. The three pit bulls, two kids and one loving girlfriend who soon emerges from the bedroom in matching slippers that read “MAMA” and “BEAR.” It’s all a life he could not have imagined for himself in Youngstown.

Yet other mornings, Bowden is consumed by a different thought. He can’t help himself.

What did I do? Why did the Raiders give up on me?

As that thought crawls its way back into Bowden’s psyche this AM, like a parasite, his complexion goes pale. All joy exits his body and every possibility runs this mind.

Was it the police raid of his grandmother’s home? The times he was blown up in pass protection? The fact that he wouldn’t take the meds the team wanted? Somewhere along the line, the Raiders quit believing in him.

So, he starts at the top: June 10, 2020.

Youngstown

The night before, he was sick. He was tired. He even considered taking a pit stop at a hotel after picking up his son from his girlfriend’s mother’s house. Instead, Bowden powered through to save some money, got to his childhood home — his grandmother’s house — and fell asleep on the couch with Lynn III in his arms.

Both awoke to a loud bang and 15 police officers.

“Boom! They kick the door in,” Bowden says. “They’ve got the guns in my son’s face because he jumps up scared and runs. There are guns in his face and I’m like, ‘He’s got nothing to do with it!’”

The raid was on. Authorities detained Bowden in handcuffs on the porch, and didn’t find anything beyond Bowden’s registered guns. No drugs. Nothing illegal. He wasn’t arrested, nor charged with any crimes. The damage was done, of course. The second Bowden looked outside, he was shocked to see a horde of news cameras. He says the media was on site right at 7 a.m., thus believes they were tipped off so police could make a show of this all, of him.

Bad headlines spread instantly. A reputation he worked so hard to strengthen was tarnished — just like that.

And he knows for a fact that the Raiders were spooked. Why? He heard their doubt himself. Once the raid was complete — once word spread from Youngstown to Vegas — Bowden says he crossed the street and FaceTimed with Raiders special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who was in the middle of a meeting with coaches.

The coaches didn’t know Bowden could hear everything they were saying, too.

“Nobody was sticking up for me,” Bowden says. “It was, ‘Well, you know it is a drug house, it’s a gang-related house. So, he could’ve been in it.’ I’m hearing it! This is my first time even telling anybody this shit. I’m hearing ‘em! So I’m already knowing what their mindset is.”

Right then, Bowden believed his employers were putting him into a box before even getting to know him, that they were crafting an image of exactly who he was before he stepped a foot in the facility. And, damn, what a sinking feeling that was. All Bowden could do in that moment was sit in the grass and cry. And cry. And cry.

This hurt.

“I’m crying,” he says, “like, ‘Man, my whole career is ruined.’”

If only Mayock and Gruden truly knew how far Bowden had come. Where to begin? Back in the day, Bowden concedes that his grandmother’s house might’ve been used for something. He has no clue. So many of his family members were in and out of jail his entire life. He remembers this home being shot up when he was nine years old. And it was right around then, in 2006, that Bowden witnessed his first murder.

After one of his Pee Wee football games finished up, Bowden watched one man open fire on another in the bleachers. The shooter chased his victim onto the field and — in front of hundreds of spectators — shot the man dead. Right there, an entire generation of kids was scarred for life. That year, Youngstown was documented as the ninth most dangerous city in America.

Bowden would go on to witness more shootouts than he can count.

Bowden didn’t have his father around, either. (“It just taught me how to be a man.”)

At 13, he got his first tattoo and never stopped. The tats. The dreads. The guns. He knows how this probably looked to college recruiters. Still, Bowden repeats he was never in an official “gang.” If anything, as he once described, he was more of a wannabe gangster with a propensity to hang around the wrong people. Simultaneously, the kid known as “Showtime” lit it up on the field. At QB, as a senior, Bowden had 3,643 rushing and passing yards with 57 touchdowns.

The best fit, clearly, was Kentucky where both the head coach (Mark Stoops) and associate head coach (Vince Marrow) were Youngstown natives. Marrow knew the entire Bowden family. Marrow attended the same church. Marrow’s been around that house that was raided the last three decades. Hell, Marrow was in the bleachers that day in ’06 — he left minutes prior to the murder and cannot begin to imagine what that sight did psychologically to Bowden, to all kids present.

Bowden’s mother trusted this coach because this coach clearly understood the real Lynn Bowden Jr.

And the truth is, Lynn Jr. absolutely turned a corner — for good — when he found out Lynn III was on the way.  

He didn’t bail. He embraced this new life.

“He’s tough but really has a soft side inside of him,” says Marrow, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1992 and played professionally for a decade. “Once you really understand who he is and once he knows you care about him? The sky’s the limit for him. Where we’re from, it’s something you’re entrenched in. He wants to go back and help youths. White or black. That’s just who he is. He’s really that type of guy off the field. I think if Lynn could save one guy, it’d make his day.

“Everybody thought Lynn was a gangbanger. He wasn’t in any gangs. No. Lynn just grew up in a very rough environment.”

If he was in a gang, Marrow assures that Bowden’s mother would’ve kindly “beat his ass.” No doubt, his support system was strong. When Bowden considered dropping out of high school to get a job and support his incoming son, Marrow told him to stick with school. You came this far, he said, don’t turn back now. And Bowden earned the grades needed to become college eligible. His Mom, Melissa Phillips, even moved to Lexington with him to help raise Lynn III. She got a job as a nurse at a local hospital.

And Marrow estimates that through Bowden’s three years on campus, he went out to a bar two times.

“I’m just telling you facts,” Marrow says. “He’s a home body. And that’s how he is now.”

It’s probably hard for most all NFL GMs to understand but, in Youngstown, in what the natives call “Murdertown,” you better have protection. Marrow says he never carried a gun in his life until he made it to the NFL and returned home.

“Because you never know,” Marrow says. “Somebody’s going to try to rob you. Somebody could say, ‘Hey, that’s Lynn Bowden. What kind of watch you got on? What kind of car do you drive?”

Leading up to the 2020 draft, Marrow explained all of this to the Raiders. He broke down exactly who Bowden was and exactly what life in Youngstown was like.

He told the franchise that Bowden is all about relationships and not to prejudge him, that it takes him a while to warm up to people. An absent Dad surely gave Bowden trust issues.

Yet there the Raiders were — on June 10— in panic mode.

“You’re dealing with a lot of kids who grew up without fathers,” Marrow says. “They grow up in impoverished situations. They’ve seen people murdered. And these kids grow up to be great assets to a lot of universities, then they get drafted. You have to now be a psychologist, a minister, a Dad. And when you become that — and when that kid grows into a young man and matures — the maturity catches up with the athletic ability. They have top athletic ability but they’re still dealing with a lot of stuff. I think a lot of these coaches don’t get it. They just look at the athlete and don’t want to work with the person.”

Not that the Raiders said anything to Bowden himself.

Bowden repeats multiple times that neither Gruden, nor Mayock asked him about the raid back in Vegas. Not once. As worried as the Raiders seemed to be in that meeting, neither head honcho running the show sought Bowden’s side of the story.

So, Bowden assumed they still believed in him.

He reported to training camp hellbent determined to make this whole running back thing work.

“I was all in,” Bowden says. “But I guess they weren’t.”

Share Go Long with Tyler Dunne

Misunderstood

He had a bad feeling about this from the get-go. Running back? Really? Not that Lynn Bowden Jr. could really say anything about it. He was just drafted into the NFL. His dream had just come true.

Of course, he was gung ho. Of course, he embraced the position switch. But when it comes to the football element of this story, Bowden’s role represents another disastrous decision on a long, long list of disastrous decisions made by Gruden.

All the coach with the 10-year contract did was set Bowden up for failure from Day 1.

Maybe the Raiders’ intentions were good. They first fell in love with Bowden at the NFL Combine when Bowden was able to spit back Gruden’s complicated verbiage with ease. Yet there’s a reason most teams viewed Bowden as a slot receiver. That is where his creativity and explosiveness would shine in the NFL. Not as a “Taysom Hill”-like weapon. Bowden loathed that comp thrown around by some teams. And certainly not at running back.

This is the sort of 1995 thinking that gets coaches fired all the time. There’s an old guard that believes the NFL dictates the X-and-O terms, that scheme trickles down. And there’s the new guard that correctly believes everything trickles up.

That you draft a talent like Lamar Jackson and let him run to daylight… because he’ll win MVP.

That you draft pure weapons, like Andy Reid does in KC, and scheme them into open field… because you’ll reach two Super Bowls.

That you find a way to maximize the rare gifts of a weapon who made SEC defenses look ridiculous. A weapon surrounded by two- and three-star recruits who dominated defenses fully loaded with five-stars. In 2018, at receiver, Bowden caught 67 passes for 745 yards with five touchdowns and another two scores on punt returns. Into 2019, he moved to QB after the Wildcats fell to 2-3. On zone reads, powers, anything that maximized his explosiveness, Bowden dominated. Those next eight games, he ran for 1,369 yards, 13 touchdowns and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.

Defenses loaded nine players into the box and Bowden found a way.

“Can you imagine if he played the full 12 games?” Marrow says. “He would’ve been up for the Heisman.”

Adds Bowden: “Everybody’s fast. You’ve got D-Linemen running 4.4. It’s crazy Literally, the SEC is the NFL.”

If the Raiders were smart, Marrow adds, they would’ve seen precisely how Kentucky used Bowden at both WR and QB and realized you’ve got to unleash him into open space like Reid does with Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Bowden is lauded as one of the smartest players ever to step on the Kentucky campus — he can dissect a defense — but, no, he was never asked to pick up a blitz.

And into training camp, the Raiders asked him to block. Often. It wasn’t pretty. One drill, Bowden says he needed to block a player that was roughly “350 pounds.” Which, you know, would be something like asking Tyreek Hill or Julian Edelman to hold their own vs. JJ Watt.

“I’m like, ‘What the f--- is this? I’m 195!” says Bowden.

In retrospect, Bowden admits he should’ve added 20 pounds that offseason. Either way, the Raiders drafted the most dynamic player in college football and made him play with a straightjacket on. He threw the ball a couple times. He ran the Wild Cat a couple snaps. And Gruden messed around with something he called a “Twelve Lexington” package that consisted of two or three routes. Yet all along, the Raiders never wavered: Bowden, they dictated, was a running back. Marrow compares this all to basketball: This was akin to Gruden trotting out two big stiffs to post up on the block while everyone else is (wisely) launching 3-pointers.

Here in his living room, Bowden calls Gruden “a good dude” and “a football guru.”

But he echoes what players said back in Year 1 of this reboot: Gruden is notoriously quick to give up on young players.

Says Bowden: “If you’re not his guy, you’re not his guy. Once he shies away from you, he shies away from you.”

And Bowden does not buy the notion that this was all about football, either. Especially when there wasn’t even an NFL preseason. What stings the most is the fact that his own bosses believed he was something he is not. The fact that when Bowden looks into the mirror he sees one person — a father, a family man on the right path in life — and when the Raiders looked at him, post-raid, they saw something completely different.

Day after day, he felt the Raiders lose trust.

Sometimes, it was something small. Like a comment in a team meeting. He says the Raiders were pissed he bought his mother a car and that Bisaccia called him out in front of the team.

“He’d say, ‘Yeah, Lynn just bought these cars and he doesn’t even know if he’s on the team,’” Bowden says. “It’s my money. Why wouldn’t I buy my Mom a car? … So, that says a lot about them.”

Sometimes, it was something bigger. Like the team trying to get Bowden on ADHD medication.

Into August, Bowden says the team sent him to see a counselor about three hours away. Calling himself the “quietest cat” in camp, he cannot recall a specific incident that prompted this. If there was one benefit from that June raid, it’s that Bowden became a hermit in Sin City. After hearing those coaches on FaceTime, Bowden knew he needed to shut it down. To the extreme. From June through September, Bowden estimates he left home “two or three times” — and that was only to walk the strip with his pregnant girlfriend.

Bowden’s best guess is that the Raiders had him evaluated over the punch he threw in the pregame melee of his final college game. Upon being diagnosed, Bowden refused to take the meds.

“I feel like they were trying to control me,” Bowden says. “I’m a grown man. You’re my coach but you’re not going to tell me how to live my life. I’m not about to take that medication to f--- me up.”

NFL players get a pass on drug tests if they’re taking the medication, Bowden adds. He wonders aloud if that is what motivated the Raiders.

If so, that’d also expose a lack of trust in Bowden. (He says he didn’t fail any drug tests.)

“I don’t know what they were on,” Bowden says. “I didn’t like it, though.”

Before Bowden knew it, Week 1 loomed and he wasn’t even in the gameplan. Instead, he masqueraded as Alvin Kamara on the scout team which… was not a good sign. Still, Bowden was a third-round pick. He wasn’t expecting an eventful Cutdown Day.

That’s why the morning of Sept. 5, 2020 is seared in his memory just as much as June 10.

Bowden woke up to five missed calls from a team official — the designated “grim reaper,” as he calls him — and, like everyone else, was cattle led to slaughter. The second he called back and heard those fateful words, Bring your iPad, Bowden feared the worst. He texted his agent and both braced for impact. Upon arriving, Bowden was herded to a room upstairs full of players about to be cut. Mayock called him in and Bowden says the GM told him, blankly, that Gruden was not seeing what he saw at Kentucky.

At which point, Bowden asked Mayock why nobody brought this up to him at any point all camp.

Mayock instructed him to sit in a separate room. He did. He waited. He was sent home. And finally, ‘round 12:45 p.m., Bowden got the call from the GM that he had been traded to the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders basically dumped Bowden for whatever they could, shipping him to Miami for a 2021 fourth-rounder — and Mayock had to throw in a 2021 sixth-rounder while also eating the $985,000 signing bonus the team already paid Bowden.

That day, the Raiders leaked how they felt about Bowden off the field with this report indicating they believed Bowden was a bad influence on the other rookies. While Mayock reiterated publicly that this was a football decision, it should be noted that nobody’s more connected on the Raiders beat than the piece’s author, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur.

Privately, this absolutely had to be how many in the building viewed Bowden.

Moments after reading this, Bowden called up the other rookies.

“One of them was like, ‘They’re trying to slander your name,’” Bowden says. “They knew me! They knew I didn’t come outside. There was nothing about me that was a bad influence. I already knew the spotlight was on me. I knew I was under a MIKE-ROW-SCOPE. So why would I f--- it up? Why would I f--- it up? I just got raided.”

That night, Bowden took a flight to Ft. Lauderdale to restart his football career.

It’s worth repeating: Two figures synonymous with the sport itself on TV the last two decades crafted an opinion of Lynn Bowden Jr. without ever getting to know the real Lynn Bowden Jr. All along, Bowden insists neither Mayock or Gruden questioned his character to his face.

And that hurt. Bad.

Again, this offseason, Mayock lamented this as a football mistake. He said asking Bowden to make such a position change “wasn’t fair to the kid.” The GM didn’t respond to an interview request for this story.

Once Bowden gets all of this off his chest, one hour into conversation, he clicks a few buttons on the remote control in his right hand and the Netflix home screen gives way to YouTube.

A Cocomelon teaser gives way to… “Showtime.”

Bowden’s smile returns, all Raiders memories evaporate, and he lets the good times roll.

“Magic”

The moment the first highlight reel plays, all gloom on Lynn Bowden Jr.’s face disappears. He lounges back. His right leg is perched up. He isn’t stressed at all.

Rather than tell you what’s coming in 2021, he chooses to show you on this massive TV.

Because, honestly, Bowden cannot quite articulate the sensation that runs through his body when the ball is in his hands.

“Magic. It’s just magic. I watch it sometimes and am like, ‘Damn, I don’t even know how I did some of that shit.’ Like, ‘Dang!’”

First up, NFL highlights. The day he went for 82 yards on seven receptions vs. the Chiefs. Right there on the screen is proof that Bowden can treat NFL defenses exactly how he treated SEC defenses. In No. 15, he slices and dices the Chiefs as a wide receiver for the Dolphins.

Next, he replays his shining moment from the Kentucky days, a video that takes viewers through an epic Belk Bowl triumph over Virginia Tech. These eight minutes and 17 seconds always give Bowden goosebumps. It begins with the unknown of whether Bowden would even play and beautifully captures the emotion of a wild college finale. As Bowden knifes through the Hokies for 233 yards on the screen — as he stiff-arms defenders and sprints for a 61-yarder and throws a game-winning TD with 15 seconds left — Bowden cannot take his eyes off the screen.

His head bobs. His lips whisper the rap lyrics playing to the highlights.

On the screen, afterward, he’s on top of the football world. Holding Lynn III in his arms, he tells all Kentucky fans to jump the gate and rush the field to celebrate. And in the locker room, an emotional Bowden thanks Kentucky for believing in him.

Right here, you see how his unique style of play elevates everyone around him.

Bowden knows he can bring this same effect to the NFL.

“Definitely. Definitely. It’s coming.”

The videos continue to autoplay, right to a reel from the high school days. He’s rocking the No. 6 then and, each play, it’s as if Bowden has a sixth sense to intuitively know where all other players on the field are moving before they do. Everything’s so, so effortless. The field is his personal maze and Bowden knows every dead-end, every alley, every escape.

The No. 1 play on this Top 10 video is not fair. He jukes and spins and trucks defenders 109 yards to the house after a botched snap.

Re-watching this play, once more, Bowden is mesmerized himself.

“I see stuff before it happens,” he says. “It’s not even a feeling. As I’m running, I see it. I see everything. It’s almost like a slow-down of the map when I’m running.

“I just see everything. … I miss that 6.”

And his confidence — on the spot — shoots through the roof. It always does watching these clips.

He fully expects to make plays like these in the pros for a long time.

Granted, the trade screwed with his sanity. It took months for him to regain his swagger. When Bowden first got to Miami, head coach Brian Flores assured him that he didn’t care what happened in the past. The punch? The raid? Forget it. His slate was clean here. Bowden embraced the life reset by moving into this house one month after the trade.

Still, mentally, he was “shell-shocked” and “scared.”

Bowden couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom in the back of his mind, that feeling of “Shit, I could get traded any day. I could get cut any day.” It wasn’t until the Dolphins played the Raiders — on Dec. 26, 2020 — that Bowden was able to move past it all. Being back in Las Vegas, and seeing the silver ‘n black on the other sideline, helped. Like facing down a demon. Afterward, a few coaches approached him. Bowden always got along with running backs coach, Kirby Wilson.

But Gruden? No, Gruden didn’t say a word to him. Not that he cares.

He’s home and he believes the Dolphins will take full advantage of that PPV-worthy human joystick of an athlete looping on his TV screen. Note to all fans in South Florida: You’ll want to buy season tickets just to see what Bowden does next.

“I just sit back and smile when I think of football,” Bowden says, “and what it’s going to be next year. People don’t even know.”

It doesn’t matter how Bowden gets the football. Once he has it, he expects more magic.

He cites the Year 1 to Year 2 jump at Kentucky. When Bowden was a freshman, he caught 17 balls. (Marrow adds that he was a “spoiled brat” then, too.) The next year? Sixty-seven. In Year 3, he could’ve easily hit 100 if he stayed at receiver. So as a rookie with Miami, Bowden says he learned patience above all else. Once injuries vaulted him into action, he had 27 receptions the final five games of the season.

He expects another Year 2 leap. Because of that sixth sense.

Marrow compares Bowden’s vision to Barry Sanders and Lamar Jackson — he’s never worried about making that first defender miss. He knows he’ll leave that defender in the dust. His eyes are focused on the next guy. And the next guy.

“You can’t keep LB down,” Marrow says. “He will be on Sportscenter, trust me. He’s one of those guys.”

To get there, Bowden’s been training with PER4ORM’s Nick Hicks, the same trainer who morphed Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary into a new player. Bowden saw Hicks working with Tua Tagovailoa and wide receivers, like Denver’s Jerry Jeudy, and DM’ed him on Instagram.

Now, Hicks calls Bowden one of the best athletes he’s ever witnessed.

“He’s a naturally athletic guy,” Hicks says. “There are other dudes who are physically gifted — they’re really strong, really big, really fast — but they’re not really in-tune with their body. They’re not great at motor learning skills. They don’t have great hands. Don’t have good ball skills. Lynn is in that top tier of athletic guys who can just pick things up on the fly. You can see why he played quarterback in high school and returned kicks, returned punts, he’s an amazing basketball player. The dude is just insanely athletic all around.”

An athlete the Raiders couldn’t figure out how to use.

“The Raiders are the Raiders,” Hicks says. “They are where they are because of that.”

Now, this Dolphins offense could be dynamite.

DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller lead an insanely deep receiving corps. The key? The quarterback. Off major hip surgery, Tagovailoa mostly dinked and dunked through his rookie year. After admitting Tagovailoa played “a little scared” as a rookie, Bowden says he fully expects the QB to blow up in Year 2. He tells him constantly to stay confident, to pull the trigger like he did that KC game.

If gunslingin’ becomes Tua’s default, this Dolphins offense could take the league by storm.

Says Bowden: “When he lets it loose and he’s being himself, we’ll win every game. When he’s feeling himself and he’s moving and doing his thing, Tua is one of the best quarterbacks, literally, around. And people don’t know that yet.”

He believes in Tua and he sure believes in himself. He’s misunderstood no more.

Bowden knows this current coaching staff just gets him.

And this is where Marrow believes it helps to have an African-American GM and head coach. They don’t see a body camouflaged in tattoos and draw conclusions. He’s confident that Flores can strike the perfect blend of love and discipline Bowden needs, that Flores understands where Bowden’s been. The Raiders did not. Which is why Marrow publicly blasted the franchise the day after the trade.

“That’s why I didn’t care who the f--- I pissed off,” Marrow says. “When they tried to say that crap, I came to his defense. Like, ‘What the f--- are these dudes talking about?’ They did not get to know him. You can’t be all, ‘This kid from Youngstown is a bad kid and we’re going to move on from him.’ That was a bunch of BS.”

As the highlights continue to play on the screen, Bowden cradles his infant daughter.

Bowden is not pissed anymore because he doesn’t let other people define him. Unlike many NFL stars, he sincerely does not give a damn what other people think of him. The real Lynn Bowden Jr., he says, is a “great father” and an “outstanding football player” and “a family man” to the core. That family includes the dogs, too. Bowden yells for the friendliest one to hang out in the living room — “Zeus!” — and in lumbers a six-month-old pit bull he paid $15,000 for through Gator Head Bullies in Mississippi. (Don’t tell the Raiders.)

Like all of us, Bowden has his own high-pitched puppy voice. He lifts the massive Zeus up and gives him a bear hug.

“Come here, buddy! Come here and see Daddy! Say, ‘I’m a big dude!’”

No doubt, Bowden is as cool, as comfortable in his own skin as he’s ever been. Literally. So, bring on all the tattoos. He couldn’t care less who’s judging him. Soon, he’ll get “Third round, 80th pick” inked so he never forgets what went down in Vegas. Soon, he’ll likely eclipse the 100 tat milestone.

Especially since he even gives himself tattoos. Seriously.

Some days, Bowden says he gets bored and free-hands whatever comes to mind right here on what he calls his “practice leg.”

The needle doesn’t hurt anymore. He says it feels something like being stung by a bee that’s moving along his skin. With that, Bowden pops off the couch to retrieve his own wireless tattoo gun and revs it up. For a moment, you think he might stab himself yet again in that leg — right here on the spot — before turning it off, setting it aside and showing off his latest artwork.

On his left thigh, right there, Bowden drew his own rendering of a dolphin with the number “15.”

Bowden likes this new ink but assures he’ll also get a more professional one done featuring the team’s actual logo.

“It’s going to be big. With the No. 15.”

Err… make that No. 6. A few weeks after this chat, the NFL makes it legal for receivers to wear single-digit numbers, so Bowden decides to turn the clock back to those high school days, to that kid creating so much magic under the lights.

The plan is to now embarrass defenders exactly like he did then.

The Real L.B.

Now, it’s time.

It’s time to take his reputation back.

Bowden heads outside to show off that Jugs machine. He’s out here around 5 p.m. every night with a brother. Some days, he’ll stand roughly 15 to 20 yards away and catch footballs spiraling his way at more than 50 MPH. Other days, he’ll set up in the adjacent park, over the tree line, and have his brother launch “punts” to field. He’s never been this confident in his hands. He’s ready to be Miami’s own Tyreek threat.

And this is a long way from Youngstown. The plan may be to one day save more kids without Dads in “Murdertown.” For now, he’s enjoying this home 1,200 miles away from the chaos that should’ve killed him.

Last week, his family went to the zoo. Today, they’ll go to the beach.

As the scorching heat illuminates that “Hate it or love it” tattoo near his hairline, Bowden grabs a power drill and looks up at that makeshift basketball hoop he nailed in for Lynn III.

“This is me,” he says. “You’ll hate me or you’ll love me. I guess I come off to people different. People see me and say, ‘He ain’t the guy,’ instead of actually sitting down and talking to me.”

He’s certain this story will have a happy ending. But the sad truth is there are many more Lynn Bowdens out there who are chewed up and spat out by the NFL machine. He’s the lucky one to still have a shot.

Bowden can’t change what anyone thinks about the raid, the tats, the punch.

He knows people out there may be startled by all those guns authorities found and think the Raiders were 100 percent justified cutting bait. He can’t change those minds. Simply, Bowden believes it’s his right to bear arms and he cherishes his liberty. Anyone out there with preconceived notions of who Bowden is or what he believes simply by looking at him must check themselves.

You cannot put him in a box.

He has black friends. He has white friends. Those closest to Bowden hail from every background imaginable. One of his white friends is actually here, sitting at the kitchen table, taking online classes at Ohio State. And part of the reason Bowden absolutely loved living in Kentucky for three years was that he met people who had polar-opposite upbringings than him — he probably would’ve stayed for a fourth year if he didn’t have mouths to feed. These new teammates introduced him to country life. Bowden now loves hunting and four-wheelin’ and fishing and, heck, he even tried eating rare meat for the first time ever.

That raid pissed him off but Bowden isn’t anti-police at all. He goes out of his way to bring up positive interactions he’s had with law enforcement.

He’s a free thinker with opinions all over the political spectrum.

Some opinions that — gasp! — may be unfit for the blue checkmark brigade on Twitter.

Just know that Bowden reads. A lot. And he always maintains a skeptical eye, always thinks outside the box. We discuss everything from the pandemic to artificial intelligence to UFOs and, let’s just say Bowden probably wasn’t surprised by that 60 Minutes report. No doubt, Bowden will make you think and steer you down one rabbit hole after another. He could stand here in the 86-degree heat and talk forever to this visitor who never experienced anything remotely similar to Youngstown.

It’s simple, really: Bowden does not judge anyone or anything. And that’s how we all should live.

“I feel like if more people stepped out of their comfort zone,” he says, “the world would be way better.”

One team wasn’t willing to do that.

Lynn Bowden Jr. will now make that team regret its decision.

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