Bubba Smith recalled as 'good guy,' great athlete
Smith was found dead at his Baldwin Hills home Wednesday. No cause of death has been determined, though authorities have said there were no initial signs of foul play. He was 66.
"It's real shocking," Hank Bullough, Smith's defensive coordinator at Michigan State University, told the Lansing State Journal. "He's a guy who did a lot of things to help people, he was a good guy."
It was at Michigan State where Smith became a football phenom as well as an All-American, known for his 6-foot-7, 280-pound build that made him a huge threat on defense. Smith played in a college football classic -- dubbed "The Game of the Century" by the media -- against Notre Dame. The 1966 game between the top two nationally ranked teams ended in a 10-10 tie.
"Huge, quick, fast -- I mean, you never saw people like that in those days," former Michigan State teammate Bob Apisa told the State Journal. "He was an aberration, a freak. He was extraordinary, and I was very happy he was on my team."
"He was simply a good guy," another former college teammate, Robert Viney, said in a statement. "His size made him an intimidating figure, but he was a real gentleman. He was a helluva player."
That continued in the NFL, teammates said. Smith was the No. 1 draft pick in 1967, going to the Baltimore Colts.
"By his second year in the league, once he got his attitude right and worked hard, I don't think there was anyone in the league who could block him," former Colts teammate Fred Miller told the Baltimore Sun. "We used to prime Bubba all week. We'd know which offensive lineman he'd be facing in Sunday's game and we'd say, 'Bubba, he's going to kill you!' But it was always the other way around. They hardly touched him."
After a nine-year pro career that included five seasons for the Colts -- including a victory in Super Bowl V -- and two seasons each with the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers, Smith started appearing in commercials for Miller Lite beer, playing an inept golfer and polo player alongside fellow NFL veteran Dick Butkus.
"Dick Butkus salutes the career and life of Bubba Smith, a football player and entertainer who died August 3 at the age of 66," read a message on Butkus' official Facebook page Wednesday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family."
Butkus also starred with Smith as a detective duo in "Blue Thunder," a 1980s TV series that was one of many film and television shows Smith had roles in.
"Of all the actors I have ever had the privilege of working with, I can truly say Bubba is high on the most memorable and fun list," wrote "Blue Thunder" director Guy Magar in The Wrap. "He was a special soul, a gentle giant, as kind and caring on the film set as he was feared and terrifying to every quarterback that ever faced him on the gridiron."
-- Kate Mather
Photo: Bubba Smith in a "Police Academy" film. Credit: Warner Bros. / Getty Images