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Original Issue

Bubba Smith 1945--2011

F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that there are no second acts in American lives was vigorously sacked by Charles Aaron (Bubba) Smith. The 6'7", 265-pound Smith, who died, apparently of natural causes, at age 66 on Aug. 3 at his home in Los Angeles, burst onto the scene in the 1960s as a two-time All-America defensive end at Michigan State. But it was his almost nonhuman menace that made Bubba a household name and prompted Spartans fans to wear buttons that said KILL, BUBBA, KILL. Smith then played nine seasons in the NFL, most notably for the Baltimore Colts, whom he represented in two Pro Bowls.

After he hung up his size 14D cleats, Bubba made another cultural footprint. Along with other rough-hewn jocks of the era (Dick Butkus, Alex Karras), Smith found a niche as a deadpan comic actor: in the ubiquitous Miller Lite ads ("I also love the easy-opening cans"), in TV series (Taxi, Vega$) and most risibly as the Herculean-but-gently-clueless Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies. In so transforming his image, Smith helped pave the way for a parade of lovable sports lugs, all the way to Shaq in Kazaam. Today, any behemoth who finds himself eliciting yuks in Hollywood might stop to say: Thanks, Bub.