Hot Bubba Smith

Sorry to hear of Bubba Smith’s passing. He was only 66. I worked with Bubba on two shows. Interestingly, neither of them are included in any of the obits I’ve seen. I guess he was more well-known for POLICE ACADEMY and the Oakland Raiders. But I worked with him on OPEN ALL NIGHT and THE MARY SHOW.

He was a series regular in OPEN ALL NIGHT -- a 1980 sitcom about an all-night convenience store. My writing partner, David and I wrote two episodes and guested in one of them. So yes, I acted in a show with Bubba Smith. He generally played the soft-spoken big man who you did not want to cross. In person he was just the soft-spoken big man. Of course I never said to him, “Y’know, the Oakland Raiders are just a bunch of pansies”. But he was a delightful guy. And what impressed me most was how serious he was about acting. It wasn’t just a lark. He put the same effort into learning how to play comedy as he did crushing quarterbacks into powder. You’d think directors and producers would be intimidated giving this 6' 8" bruiser notes but he was extremely receptive. And the results paid dividends. He was very funny, in an understated way that fit perfectly with his giant presence.

Bubba also guested for us on THE MARY SHOW. He played himself. I still love the premise. John Astin, as the theater critic, panned Bubba’s performance in a play that had just opened. So Bubba, furious, comes up to the newsroom to the beat the crap out of John. Name me one actor who hasn’t fantasized that same scenario. In the show, John talks him out of it and instead winds up coaching him. Watching Bubba Smith try to give a performance using John’s acting method was a hoot.

We had Bubba regale us with many football stories from his glory days in the NFL. Yes, that world is as violent and brutal as you imagine. Little things like broken bones and pain pale in importance with gaining an extra yard. They say he died of natural causes. I didn’t realize that the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers are considered natural causes.

He had dropped out of sight of late. I hope his last years were happy ones. I’m sure the tributes will talk about how big he was, how fierce he was, how popular he was. But I want to add how funny he was.

"When hearing tales of Bubba Smith, you wonder, is he man or myth?"
-- Ogden Nash
Actor and football great Charles A. "Bubba" Smith grew up in Beaumont, Texas, graduating from Charlton-Pollard High School, where he played for his father, coach Willie Ray Smith, Sr. Willie Ray bred three All-State Smiths -- Willie Ray, Jr., Tody, and Bubba. They made Charlton Pollard a perennial power in Texas school football. In Bubba's senior year the school was 11-0, and college recruiters beat down the doors at the Smith household until Bubba decided to attend Michigan State University.
Bubba became one of MSU's all-time great players, winning All-Big Ten and All-America honors for two straight years (1965 and 1966) as the team stomped through two unbeaten seasons and became the national champions. Whether he was playing tackle, defensive end, or middle guard, fans would cheer him on with, "Kill, Bubba, Kill!"
In 1967, the Baltimore Colts made him their number one draft choice. Bubba stayed with the Colts through the 1972 season and racked up some impressive statistics: He played in the NFL championship game in 1968 and the Super Bowl in 1969 and 1971. He was chosen All-AFC in 1970 and 1971, and played in the Pro-Bowl in 1971 and 1972.

Bubba missed the 1972 season after knee surgery and was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 1973. He moved home to Texas to play for the Houston Oilers in 1975 and completed his career with them in 1977. He made his last game memorable by making twelve unassisted tackles, sacking Bob Griese twice, blocking an extra point, and knocking aside a field goal.
A ten-year veteran of the NFL, wrote his memoirs, "Kill, Bubba, Kill," with Hal de Windt in 1983.
He has developed a successful second career as an actor, first working in Miller Lite beer commercials then starring in the Police Academy movies. 


SportsHollywood: First Question: Tastes great or less filling?
SMITH: Tastes great.
SportsHollywood: What's your favorite sports movie?
SMITH: Remember The Titans with Denzel Washington. I like the story of having to overcome what may seem as impossible odds to achieve a goal and the teamwork it takes to get there.
SportsHollywood: What's your favorite movie that YOU were in?
SMITH: Black Moon Rising with Tommy Lee Jones.
SportsHollywood: Which was your favorite POLICE ACADEMY movie?
SMITH: The first one.
SportsHollywood: Most memorable football game:
SMITH: Michigan State vs. Norte Dame 10/10 Game.

SportsHollywood: Do you have fonder memories of college or pro ball?
SMITH: College.
SportsHollywood: Do you think your Michigan State team could have beaten any pro teams?
SMITH: The 1966 team would have been competitive with a few NFL teams..
SportsHollywood: You were named to the NCAA All-American Team twice. Most athletes don't stay in school long enough to accomplish that anymore. How do you feel about early entry into pro sports?
SMITH: I feel that there is not enough money you could be paid to make up for the learning and growth process you get in college. The millions of dollars will always be there if you are that good of a player.

SportsHollywood: What made you more famous: Football or acting?
SMITH: Apparently acting.
SportsHollywood: When you're in a bar, do people ever ask you to recreate the "easy opening can" ad?
SMITH: I do not go to bars, but at personal appearances there is always someone who asks.
SportsHollywood: Did you ever idolize any football players when you were growing up?
SMITH: My big brother, Willy Ray Smith Jr. He was the best player in the family.
SportsHollywood: What sports do you enjoy now?
SMITH: Football and Track & Field.
SportsHollywood: Favorite pro athlete playing today:
SMITH: I'd say Kobe Bryant in basketball; Marshall Faulk in football; Alex Rodriguez in baseball; and Michael Johnson in Track & Field.
SportsHollywood: Is there anybody in football today who reminds you of you?
SMITH: Not really the size of the player at each position is so different than when I was a player.
SportsHollywood: Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?
SMITH: St. Louis Rams.

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