All football fans were saddened Wednesday by the news that former Michigan State and NFL defensive end Bubba Smith passed away. Though Smith’s playing career took him from East Lansing to Baltimore to Oakland to Houston, the late Hall of Famer had a couple of connections to the Classic City, as well.
First of all, beloved former Bulldog and PGA golfer Bubba Watson reportedly was named for Smith. Secondly, Smith was standing on the Sanford Stadium sideline on Labor Day night in 1982, where he played a small but crucial role in the Georgia Bulldogs’ season-opening victory over the Clemson Tigers in a titanic struggle between the 1980 and 1981 national champions.
The game marked the first career start for Red and Black quarterback John Lastinger, who nervously bobbled a first-quarter snap from center Wayne Radloff, resulting in a fumble that gave the Country Gentlemen possession at the Georgia eleven yard line. Three plays later, Clemson held a 7-0 lead.
Smith, who was in Athens that night because he had been filming in the Peach State as part of his post-NFL acting career, put in an appearance on the field, where he jabbed a finger in Lastinger’s chest and told the quarterback: "Settle down." Lastinger listened, and he closed out the first half by guiding a Bulldog drive in the final 78 seconds of the second quarter. Following Lastinger completions for 27 yards to Charles Junior and for nine yards to Scottie Williams, Kevin Butler kicked a 39-yard field goal to give the ‘Dawgs a 10-7 advantage at intermission. They would not thereafter relinquish the lead, holding on for a 13-7 victory.
Rest in peace, Charles Aaron "Bubba" Smith.