I was saddened to hear about Bubba Smith’s passing yesterday, but it got me thinking about one of my favorite childhood memories. At the age of six, I was a huge football fan, and I’d heard about a “Meet the Colts” drawing. Determined to enter, I hounded my dad until he took me to Doug Griffith Chrysler Plymouth, where I filled out a form (name, address, phone #) and stuffed it inside a box jam-packed with forms from other kids hoping to meet their heroes. A few weeks later, I got a call saying I’d won. Actually, a few dozen kids were chosen, but it was definitely my golden ticket moment, and we were told to gather at Memorial Stadium on a Saturday.
I’ll never forget it. A Colts official greeted the group, gave us all copies of the 1971 Media Guide, and took us straight to the field where the team was practicing. Johnny Unitas threw long spirals to receivers sprinting down the sideline, David Lee punted balls that seemed to disappear into the atmosphere before returning to earth, kicker Jim O’Brien split the uprights with field goals, and everyone looked like a giant.
And I remember that three players were particularly nice to me—maybe because I was the youngest kid in the group. Earl Morrall told me he’d never seen a boy with so many freckles, John Mackey played catch for a few minutes (but didn’t really say much), and Bubba Smith asked me, “What’s up, little man?” We were a funny sight, because I was the smallest person in the group, and Bubba seemed to be the biggest person on earth. He leaned down, shook my hand, and smiled. He seemed gentle and kind, and we talked about the Colts winning the Super Bowl.
But you know what? After meeting Bubba, I didn’t really want to play organized football anymore. Even smiling, he was incredibly intimidating, and I figured that any activity/career that put you on a collision course with guys like that wasn’t really for me. So I turned to baseball and counted my blessings that I wasn’t Daryle Lamonica or Joe Namath.