Spartans great Bubba Smith dies

Sad news tonight, as Michigan State legend Bubba Smith has died at age 66.

Smith was a two-time All-American defensive end during his career at Michigan State, which spanned from 1964-66. The Spartans went 19-1-1 in his final two seasons, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles and claiming national championships. One of the most feared pass rushers of his day at 6-foot-7, Smith had 30 tackles, including 10 for loss, as a senior despite facing triple teams and having opponents run away from him.

He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1967 draft, playing nine pro seasons and winning a Super Bowl ring before going on to a second career as a Hollywood actor.

Smith is one of only three Michigan State players to have his number (No. 95) retired. The Big Ten has named an award in his honor and will give out the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year trophy following the season. The award also honors Penn State’s Courtney Brown.

UPDATE: Here are some quotes about Smith that Michigan State sent out Wednesday night:

Former teammate Gene Washington (wide receiver, 1964-66):

“Bubba was a very concerned, kind person to everybody. He liked giving back to the community and helping others. Bubba will be sorely missed because he touched many lives.

“Bubba and I played against each other in both football and basketball in high school. His father (W.R. Smith) was his high school, and his dad really encouraged Duffy (Daugherty) to recruit me. His father was a well respected high school coach so his recommendation carried a lot of weight. I’ll be forever thankful for his dad’s efforts to put me on Duffy’s recruiting list.

“Needless to say, Bubba was a longtime friend. Our football careers were very involved – both as competitors in high school and later in the pros and as teammates in college. Bubba was definitely a game changer as a defensive end. You simply didn’t see guys with his size and quickness coming off the defensive line. His ability spoke for itself. He was a great teammate and a great leader. Bubba never had to say much because he led by example.

“As students at MSU, Bubba and I took several classes together. I also remember how supportive he was of my track career. During both the indoor and outdoor track seasons, I could count on Bubba being there in the stands, cheering me on.”

Former teammate Robert Viney (defensive end, 1963-65):

“I’m brokenhearted. I just spoke with Bubba by phone on Monday. He had invited some old veterans from the Raiders and Rams over to his house to review the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement.

“He was simply a good guy. His size made him an intimidating figure, but he was a real gentleman. He was a helluva player.

“I will shed some tears tonight because I’ve lost a great friend. He never sought the spotlight. He was a humble man. As I remember him, I recall the chants of “Kill, Bubba, Kill” from the crowd in Spartan Stadium. He will be missed.”

Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon:

“Bubba Smith was a multi-talented Spartan. He will be remembered for his many contributions to MSU’s great history and tradition of excellence on the football field and for being part of Spartans in Hollywood.”

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis:

“Bubba Smith was a great Spartan. Years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him when he served as the grand marshal for the Homecoming parade and again when he returned to campus for the retirement of his jersey number, and he had a great presence wherever he want. Despite his stature and notoriety, you felt comfortable around him because he had an engaging personality. As both a football player and later as an actor, Bubba was a great ambassador for the University. It’s only fitting that beginning this fall the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Award bears his name.”

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio:

“Charles ‘Bubba’ Smith was a larger-than-life figure. A two-time All-American, he’s arguably the greatest defensive end to ever play the college game. He ranks as one of Michigan State’s all-time greats. He had a national presence in both football and later in cinema. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of his former teammates at this time of great sorrow. He will forever be one of our greatest Spartans.”