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Thursday, August 4, 2011
Remembering Bubba Smith and Moses Hightower


Before there was Nordberg. Before there was Hunter. Before there was Joe Huff and the latest pair of Football Cops, there was Moses Hightower -- one of the original NFLers-turned-officers, the hulking but quiet member the iconic "Police Academy," as played by former No. 1 pick Bubba Smith, who left us Wednesday at age 66.

A florist before he joined the force in 1984 ("I got bored with my chosen profession," he said), the fictional Hightower saw his rank raise from Cadet all the way to Lieutenant in his six years (movies), then Captain during a brief (TV show) return years later.

Aptly named (the Hightower part, not necessarily Moses), the 6-foot-7-or-so giant often was overshadowed by his more vocal counterparts (Larvell Jones' sound effects, anyone?), but stayed big and strong and kindhearted throughout; in fact, he ripped the front seat out of a car (for comfort driving), tipped another one to defend a friend's honor, and later wrestled an alligator to save the life of an unpopular Capt. Harris. He never served as his precinct's star, often overshadowed by Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Jones (Michael Winslow), Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait) and others. But the actor who played him did receive top billing in his crew's "Assignment: Miami Beach" and "City Under Siege." Not a bad way to earn a pension.

That actor, meanwhile, had quite the factual journey before even joining the fake police. Racism was said to have kept the Beaumont, Texas, native from playing for his beloved Longhorns, so he went north to Michigan State and faced similar ill will in some stadiums. It didn't stop MSU fans from chanting "Kill, Bubba, kill!" or him from becoming the No. 1 overall pick in 1967, then later winning a Super Bowl.

After football came Hightower, and before and after recurring roles on several shows including "Good Times," "Semi-Tough" and "Blue Thunder," a 1984 show where he also played a cop (alongside Dick Butkus). He became a commercial hit, too, lauding Miller Lite for its "easy-opening can" -- much as Hightower likely would have praised Honda for its "easy-removing seats."

And let's not forget Smith as conspiracy theorist. On the losing side (Colts) in the famous Super Bowl III, Smith had some thoughts about the Jets' famous win:

"This might sound crazy," he reportedly said, "but I don't think the game was kosher."

Hey, as a law enforcement officer, Capt. Hightower might just have a case.