Long before Burt Reynolds made his television debut on Gunsmoke in 1962, a really long time before he was Hollywood’s highest grossing actor and symbol of masculinity, he was an aspiring college football player at Florida State University.
In fact, during his short time playing football as FSU in the 1950s, Reynolds was once a roommate of Lee Corso, now one of the nation’s top college football analysts at ESPN.
“Burt was a life-long friend, who was extremely close to me for the last 64 years,” Corso said in a statement. “We have always stayed in touch, through the good and the bad times of our lives, talking about once a month for as long as I can remember. It was just two weeks ago that we were talking about the upcoming college football season and the ‘Noles.”
After a great career as a fullback at Palm Beach [Fla.] High, Reynolds played very briefly for the Seminoles in 1954 and 1957, running for 146 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. But in 1977, he was voted into the university’s Hall of Fame.
His biography on Seminoles.com puts his college career into more detail:
“Buddy Reynolds [as he was known] began his Florida State football career with a 33-yard pass reception against the Georgia Bulldogs as a freshman in 1954. A knee injury forced him from the lineup in mid-season and he missed the entire 1955 campaign following surgery. He returned to Florida State in 1957 but once again was sidelined by injury, which ended a promising career. … For years he hosted a segment of “The Bobby Bowden Show” . …and he has remained an ardent supporter of Seminole Athletics and the entire university.”
In its obituary of Reynolds, the Raleigh News-Observer recounted a YouTube interview he granted in 2007 in which he described the day his playing career ended against North Carolina State in 1957.
Reynolds, who was a two-way player at FSU, was beaten deep by a receiver for the only score of a 7-0 loss and would attribute the error on his physical condition.
According to a 2017 News-Observer story, there were eight seconds left in the first half when Wolfpack halfback Dick Christy caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from Ernie Driscoll.
Apparently, Christy first ran out of bounds, then circled the rear of the FSU bench before returning to the field and bursting behind a surprised Reynolds.
“I was playing on one leg,” Reynolds told YouTube. ““I had a tremendous freshman year, then I had gotten hurt at the beginning of my sophomore year and had my knee operated on. Then I had a terrible automobile accident and lost my spleen and had the other knee operated on. So I came back … and the ball player that was playing against [N.C. State] was not the ball player that I was when I was a freshman.”
Once his college career ended, Reynolds dedicated himself to his other great passion.
“I said, ‘I think I’m leaving because I’m not the ballplayer I was and I hate to see the hole open and I’m a step slower,’” Reynolds said in the YouTube interview. “I said to them, ‘I’m going to go off to Hollywood and become a movie star.’ And instead of them laughing hysterically as they should have done … they said, ‘Well, call us when you do.’”
Throughout the remainder of his life, he maintained a close connection to the Seminoles and became a dear friend of Bowden. He often donated to athletic department, once famously handing Bowden a personal check for $50,000 to buy equipment for his team.
According to legend, Reynolds eventually asked Bowden what he did with the money.
“I gave it to the officials,” Bowden said.
Reynolds connection to sports also extended into his life as an actor. He starred in the movies “Semi-Tough” in 1977 and “The Longest Yard” in 1974 that were football-based.
In the “Longest Yard” he was an NFL player sent to prison who recruits inmates to play against the guards. “Semi-Tough” was about a love triangle between players [Kris Kristofferson was his co-star] and the owner’s daughter.
Reynolds also maintained a close relationship with NASCAR and the World Football League. He invested in the WFL’s Tampa Bay franchise, whose nickname, Bandits, was derived from Reynolds’ movie “Smokey and the Bandits.”
He played a NASCAR driver in “Stroker Ace” and would become a part-owner of a Winston Cup team. The movie was filmed in part at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
And one time, Reynolds even showed up at a World Wide Federation wrestling show to serve as ring announcer for a championship match featuring Bret Hart and Yokozuna.