Even giants fall.
Bubba Smith died recently at the age of 66. Smith was a football star in the late 60s and 70s, a ferocious defensive lineman, the number one draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1967, and a monster of a man who's perfect name, enormous size and super hero strength made him an object of awe for many little boys like me.
I don't have a memory of watching Smith play football. What I have is a memory of staring at his football card. By age six or seven, I had a box full of them and some bicycle spokes rat-a-tat-tatting with them, but Smith's card was a special object of fascination. On the front was his frightening face, with the huge afro, the beard and the stare filled with impending destruction he was about to bring. But it was the back of the card that held my attention. There, among a few cartoon images of football players and a random fact ("Bubba's high school coach was his father"), it listed his size. Six foot seven, 305 pounds. Three hundred and five pounds!
Are there really people that big,
I wondered? It was like the mystical nephilim of Genesis, "the heroes of old, men of renown." Can you imagine!?
Nowadays, of course, three hundred pounds is nothing. There may not be an offensive lineman in the entire NFL who isn't at least 300 pounds. Here are the sizes of the current offensive line for the Steelers: Legursky, 6-1 315; Scott 6-6 345; Kemoeatu 6-3 344; Essex 6-4 324; Foster 6-6 325; Gilbert 6-3 330; Starks 6-8 345; Even the smallest of the bunch, center Maurkice Pouncey, is 6-4 304.
Heck, now there are high school players that big, and reality TV stars--women--who weigh that much and are trying to become the biggest loser.
But back then, at age 6, weighing all of 45 or 50 pounds after Thanksgiving dinner, wearing snow boots and a heavy winter coat while playing imaginary games of football alone in my backyard, as I nimbly evaded the terrifying giant named Bubba while scoring the winning touchdown, it was the thought of a 300-pound man chasing me that spurred me to greatness. The fear of dying at his hands led me to victory. My brother might have been the one named David, but it was I who was conquering the giant.
You can't catch me, Bubba Smith! Touchdown!
Now, my first giant is really dead. New reports confirmed that Smith died of high levels of weight-loss drugs which complicated some existing heart problems. It seems the giant couldn't nimbly evade himself and his own size in the end. Like most giants, it was his size that killed him. Tragic, but not surprising. He was a giant from a different era. And his time had come.
In the end, Bubba Smith was too big--even for himself.