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Original Issue

BURT REYNOLDS 1936-2018

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IN 1954 a promising Florida State running back named Buddy Reynolds suffered the first of a series of injuries that would ultimately end his football career. The most interesting what-if scenario here isn't how good Reynolds, an all-state high school star from West Palm Beach, might have been if he hadn't gotten hurt. Rather, it's who would have played Paul Crewe and the Bandit—and become a generation's touchstone of machoness in the process.

While recuperating from the injury, Reynolds took up acting. He proved to be a natural, and soon he was sent to Hollywood for screen tests by 20th Century Fox. When his knee healed, though, Reynolds gave football one last shot. He lasted halfway through the 1957 season before becoming an actor—and, before long, Burt Reynolds.

His turn in 1972's Deliverance established his dramatic bona fides, and he earned an Oscar nomination for his role in 1997's Boogie Nights. But Reynolds, who died last week at 82, was most at home in man's man roles—a bootlegger in Smokey and the Bandit, a stock car driver in Stroker Ace, a running back in Semi-Tough—that allowed him to draw on his past as a jock.

His signature rugged role was Crewe in The Longest Yard (right), the quarterback on a team of prison inmates tasked by the warden with playing (and tanking) against the guards. "Occasionally I'd run with the ball when [director] Robert Aldrich wasn't expecting it," Reynolds told SI in 1974. "Aldrich would give me hell, and I'd say I lost my head. But I knew it was terribly important for me to get my jock knocked off to make the film work."