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Bubba Smith: Game Changer

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Bubba Smith, a Texas high school football legend, collegiate Hall of Famer and former NFL all-pro defensive lineman died Wednesday at the age of 66.

Smith's playing days ended 35 years ago, but younger fans will know him as officer Moses Hightower in the "Police Academy" movies. Smith got his acting start by being among the first ex-athletes to appear in the Miller Light Beer Commercials.

He and former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkis became a popular duo in the campaign.

At 6-7 and 255, Smith was as quick and lethal as a leopard playing for his father Coach Willie Ray Smith at Beaumont Charlton-Pollard High School. Segregation was still the rule in 1963 and Smith would leave the state to play college football. Smith would join several other Southern Blacks who played for Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State.

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While at Michigan State, Duffy Daugherty was instrumental in speeding up the integration process in collegiate football.

Daugherty had become had coach at Michigan State in 1954, and by the early 1960's had established a strong recruiting connections in Texas.

"I had talked to Willie Ray one time when I was in Texas for a football clinic," Daugherty said. "Blacks weren't allowed in bars at the time, so I invited Willie Ray and a number of other black high school coaches up to my hotel room. I ordered a couple of cases of beer and we sat there and talked football.

"Some time later, I got a call from Willie Ray asking me if I'd take his son on a scholarship and teach him to be a man. I told him teaching him to be a man was his responsibility, I would teach him to be a football player. He said he'd also get me another player who turned out to be Gene Washington."

Gene Washington was a fleet receiver from George Washington Carver High School in Baytown. Jess Phillips, a high school teammate of Smith's was also part of the Michigan State 1963 recruiting class. George Webster, a star defensive back from South Carolina and Clint Jones, a star running back from Cleveland, helped make the Spartans recruiting class the best in the nation.

When the 1967 NFL draft came around, 4 of the top 8 choices were from Michigan State:

#1 Bubba Smith -- Baltimore
#2 Clint Jones -- Minnesota
#5 George Webster -- Houston
#8 Gene Washington -- Minnesota

Three of those men, Bubba Smith, George Webster and Gene Washington are in the College Football Hall of Fame.

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Bubba Smith was a consensus All-American in 1965 and 1966, and led the Spartans to a 19-1-1 record.

Michigan State won the National Championship in 1965 and in 1966 the Spartans were ranked #2 when they hosted #1 and unbeaten Notre Dame late in the season. The contest, billed as "The Game of The Century," was not telecast live nationally. Back in 1966 teams were allowed only one national telecast, and Notre Dame had already been on ABC. The game was telecast live regionally throughout Big 10 country and then ABC took the extraordinary step of telecasting the game to the South and West on tape delay.

The game ended in 10-10 tie when Notre Dame had possession on its own 30-yard line with 1:10 to go and four timeouts and simply ran out the clock.

Dan Jenkins began his game article in Sports Illustrated by writing that Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian had decided to "Tie One For The Gipper." Both teams won a portion of the National Championship while an 11-0 Alabama squad was relegated to third.

Bubba Smith led Michigan State to some of its best years in the Big 10. But his exodus, and success, along with others from the segregated high school programs in Texas, helped bring integration to the playing fields of the SWC.