Though I never met the man in person, I knew Bubba Smith in a way that was very different from most people. Smith, as it turns out, was the freshman year roommate of my Godfather. Growing up I'd hear stories about Bubba, but not the kind you usually hear about college athletes. I'd hear about how smart he was, what a nice human being he was, and how he treated everyone around him as a friend. In every sense of the phrase, a gentle giant.
As I grew older I got to know Bubba through these stories and through his various roles in the Police Academy movies and Miller Lite commercials. I never saw the man play football, but I felt like I had as I listened to the stories of his successes on-field. How he was unblockable or how he'd throw offensive players around like they were bean bags. A giant on the field. However, off the field, like my Godfather said, he was a gentle giant. A man too large for this world yet somehow through good humor and humility, comfortably squeezed himself into it in an inconspicuous way. Bubba passed away today. Though I never met him, I feel like someone I knew as a child has passed.
Farewell, Bubba. Rest in peace.