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ESPN’s Lee Corso Remembers Burt Reynolds, ‘a Nice Guy Who Played Nice Guys’

My earliest memory of Burt was at football practice in 1954. I was a sophomore, and he was a freshman. It was tackling practice. I had to tackle him, and he ran right over my ass. Boom. I said, “Who the hell was that?” and some guy said, “That’s Buddy Reynolds from West Palm Beach.” We all called him Buddy. He was a hell of a runner. I couldn’t handle him.

We roomed together on the road, and that’s how we got to know each other. He was so good-looking, I used to set him up as bait. He would go over to the student union and pick up two girls. Our secret was his looks and my car — a 1952 green Chevrolet. He was a great guy to hang around with. He had a great sense of humor. He was always happy, never a grouchy kind of guy. He always had a pleasant personality. He wasn’t a moaner or a groaner. He never complained about anything.

Burt was a pretty good football player, but he hurt his knee. So he went home. He started acting and got involved in summer stock in Palm Beach. Then he came back to Tallahassee, and he told me, “I’m going to Hollywood to be a movie star.” I said, “Yeah, good luck.” He said, “No, I’m serious.” So I told him, “OK, then remember one thing — be yourself, be humble and go for it.” I’ll never forget that. His dream was to be a National Football League player, but that went away with his knee. And he didn’t particularly like going to college. So I told him, “Hell, you might as well go for it.”

When his first marriage ended, I was a coach at Maryland. He called me and said, “I need to get away. I want to come spend a few days with you and your family.” I said, “Great — come visit.” He came to my house, and he was really down. He spent three or four days with us. He had given his ex-wife everything, even his dog. But he was really happy around my family, playing games in the backyard with my kids — hide-and-go-seek, stuff like that. He told me, “I really envy you. You’ve got a wife and a family, and you’re really happy.” That’s one thing he never had. He never did have a close family. But he was really good with my family. It was like he was one of us. Even after he became a superstar, he was like that.

When he became a movie star, it was because he played himself. I used to kid him about it all the time. I’d say, “You’re doing all these movies where you play yourself.” He had a real good sense of humor, and that came across. He was a real nice guy who played nice guys.

“When he became a movie star, it was because he played himself.”

I talked with him once a month for years, and we would see each other at Florida State football games. He never forgot his old teammates at Florida State.

I talked to him just last week, before he got sick. We talked about Florida State’s team and how their new coach, Willie Taggart, was going to bring them back. We made plans to see each other again. There’s a program at Florida State called Nugent Boys. All the guys that played for coach Tom Nugent go back every year. We were planning on seeing each other and being with all our teammates. He didn’t sound sick. He was upbeat.

He passed away Sept. 6. Sixty-four years we were friends. That’s a long time. I’ll miss his presence, his humor. We were very close in the good times and especially in the bad times — and we’ve both had a few. We were especially close when one of us got hurt in some way. I’ll miss that most about him. He was a real man.

As told to Daniel Holloway

Lee Corso has been an analyst on ESPN’s “College GameDay” for three decades. He is a former college and professional football coach.

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