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Sports Then and Now

Bubba Smith Sometimes Seemed Larger Than Life

Posted on August 03, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Bubba Smith was a towering figure as a member of the Baltimore Colts.

There are some athletes whose persona is greater than reality. For anyone who followed the NFL in the 1960s and 70s and movies over the following decades, Charles “Bubba” Smith was one such individual as his size and character made him a recognizable figure and a star beyond his performance on the field. Smith passed away on Wednesday, reportedly of natural causes, at the age of 66.

A towering figure at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Smith came onto the national scene as a two-time All-American defensive lineman at Michigan State. In 1966 he was part of a Spartan’s squad that faced Notre Dame in the “Game of the Century.” The game ended in a 10-10 tie and MSU finished second in the final rankings.

Drafted by the Baltimore Colts with the first pick in the 1967 NFL Draft, Smith spent five seasons terrorizing quarterbacks on some premier Baltimore squads. The Colts went 11-1-2 during his rookie season and then in 1968 posted a 13-1 record and reached Super Bowl III.

In 1970, Smith was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time as the Colts went 11-2-1 and won Super Bowl V. The following year, Smith earned first team All-Pro honors and a second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.

Traded to the Oakland Raiders in 1972, Smith played two seasons for the Raiders and two for the Houston Oilers before retiring in 1976.

While Smith’s nine-year NFL career included some great moments, he never was able to reach the sustained greatness expected when he entered the NFL.

However, following his playing career, Smith and his towering figure became well known for his performance in a series of Miller Lite Commercials, including some with fellow former NFL defensive star Dick Butkus. He also partnered with Butkus in the short lived TV series Blue Thunder.

But Smith’s greatest post-NFL role was in the Police Academy movies when he gained a cult following as Officer Moses Hightower.

Smith was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and his number was retired by Michigan State in 2006.

Here is Smith and Dick Butkus in one of their famous Lite Beer Commercials:

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