Burt Buddy Reynolds loved his Seminoles and Bandits
Yesterday, I saw the breaking news that Burt Reynolds is dead at the age of 82. My first reaction was to quote Jackie Gleason from Smokey and the Bandit “Som-a-bitch.”
There is no question that the Florida State Seminoles just lost one of the biggest fans. Reynolds came to Tallahassee in 1954 as a highly touted running back out of Palm Beach High School and after an outstanding first season with Seminoles in 1956 (no freshman played in those days) he suffered a knee injury that would affect his play for the rest of his college career.
He would go on to establish himself as one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. Deliverance, Smokey, and the Bandit, The Longest Yard. Cannon Ball Run and Boogie Nights are only a few of the wonderful films he starred in over his career.
But Burt “Buddy “Reynolds would never forget the joy he had playing football for Florida State. He and new FSU coach Bobby Bowden would forge a friendship that they would both treasure till Reynolds last few days on this planet.
I first met him in 1979 when I was producing The John McKay Show at WTOG and he was on the sidelines of an FSU game in Tallahassee.
He was a worldwide superstar and I was a 24-year-old reporter. I asked him if he had a moment to talk about his love for college football for the show. We sat down on the FSU bench before the game and 15 minutes later we had to cut the interview off because the team was getting ready for kickoff.
Two years later I was producing FSU football games for the pay-per-view outlet Sunshine Video. Our broadcast team was Bob Murphy who was the radio voice of the New York Mets and Tampa’s own Vic Prinzi who along with Lee Corso were the two men who played quarterback at FSU when Reynolds was the running back.
Like Corso, Prinzi was a dear friend of Reynolds and anytime “Buddy,” was at an FSU game he somehow became the welcome third member of our broadcast team. The crew loved him, the broadcast team loved him and he always made sure dinner and beer were sent to the crew after the game.
He would join every broadcast booth of any game I ever did for an FSU football broadcast for well over a decade if he were in town. I would be remiss if I did not mention that it was Reynolds who redesigned the Seminoles uniforms in the early 1980’s.
He went to a costume designer friend in Hollywood, and together they designed all gold pants and tweaks to the game jersey. He then had entire uniforms made for the whole team and shipped them, unannounced, to Tallahassee. The crates arrived at the football locker room with a note addressed to Bobby Bowden from Burt that read” If you like ‘em, wear ‘em.”
Of course he had a great impact on the Tampa Bay area joining John Bassett as a minority owner of the Bandits of the USFL. He was one again very pleased to join our ESPN broadcasts to talk about “Bandit Ball,” and about despite being a Gator, he loved his coach Steve Spurrier.
Reynolds was one of the kindest, most generous people that I have ever met. He never turned down a fan who wanted an autograph or a picture.
He was a big supporter of the Theatre Department at Florida State and for years not far from the Jupiter home where he died yesterday, there was The Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre where he often used students in plays that were produced at the venue.
Over the years I have had the pleasure and honor to work with some great stars of movies, television, politics and sports. But none of them loved FSU, and the state of Florida more than Reynolds.
He will be missed and I hope that he is always “East Bound and Down.”