One of our state’s iconic athletes left us last week. Calvin Bird was 75.
Turning back what doesn’t feel like so many pages, you can almost hear a football fan in Corbin on a Friday night saying, “By golly, that Bird boy’s really something. He can fly!”
Indelibly, I remember a crisp autumn evening, the aromas of fresh cut grass, popcorn and cheap cigars on the air and temperatures chilled enough to make visible the frosty exhale of offensive line squared up to start spending adrenaline.
The boys in maroon and white broke huddle with a single handclap and marched up to the 19- yard line. First quarter, first possession, first down, fans still looking for their seats. Football snap . . . collisions and scrum, grunt and growl. Then, out of the churning arms and legs, in a “where the hell did he come from!” instant, No. 66.
Calvin Bird sped into the clear, veered toward the stadium side at midfield like a jet jockey doing a fly-by for the folks, changed gears as the fans marveled and was away, headed for the Weed Laundry end zone. That night and most Fridays after, Redhound fans would go home proud again.
In seasons ahead, Bird ran over and away from opponents so often he led the state in scoring and moved several southeast Kentucky high schools to decline to schedule Corbin.
Today his name is in various Kentucky Halls of Fame. He was the caliber of player to belong in the native son Best of the Best Pantheon — Paul Hornung . . . Herbie Phelps . . . Sonny Collins . . . Shaun Alexander . . . and Calvin Bird.
“If Calvin’s high school stats were collated,” opined Bi l l Meadors of Tompkinsville, “I strongly suspect, when you factor in the competition, he may be greatest running back to ever play in the state.”
Meadors added, “I will miss my good friend and forever be thankful I was his teammate (at Corbin High School).”
• Most points in a game, Calvin was not even first in his own family. Brother Billy scored 66 against Williamsburg in 1959. McKell High’s Don Gullett holds the record, 72 and Herbie Phelps put up 68 for Old Kentucky Home High.
• Career touchdowns. Calvin may not be first in his own region. At nearby Lynn Camp High, 1996- 99 Quinton Henson scored 79 touchdowns.
In truth, figures for Bird don’t appear in KHSAA records because Corbin historians and/or record- keepers have failed to research and get them into KHSAA record.
• Final twist of irony. University of Kentucky wins against arch-rival Tennessee have been few for many years. In 1958 and 1959, however, the Wildcats beat the Vols 6-2 and 20-6. Most valuable player in both games — Calvin Bird who, for more than three decades, made his home in Kingsport, Tenn.
As much as anyone ever has in Kentucky sports, I believe Calvin Bird stood for and reflected with his life, these ideals:
• The most important thing is not the triumph but the struggle.
• The essential things are not to have conquered but to have fought well then show respect, humility, and never celebrate over the vanquished.
Ky. Mr. Baseball
When 17-year-old Hunter Green signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels it was a one-cycle sports news story in hometown, Bowling Green.
A 6- feet- 4 left- hand pitcher at Warren East High, Green was chosen 59th in Major League baseball draft and by time you read this, will have a shiny new bank deposit book with $942,000 in its current balance column.
Put on a scale we might call Roundball Index, Green’s decision hardly moved the needle and drama factor certainly would not rise to a level of say, an Ashley Judd sighting at Rupp Arena.
Just another high school senior (Kentucky Mr. Baseball) with a guaranteed scholarship at University of Kentucky already in his pocket, suddenly presented other options.
Since the LA Angels invested $125 million in Hamilton for five years and $240 to Albert Pujols for 10, the franchise was pushed down to the 59th pick in the draft. With southpaw pitching prospects always at a premium, presto, there was Hunter Green.
Time for ‘No, but thanks’ to UK scholarship, and headed to the workplace.
Because the Angels are, to put it nicely, pitcheranemic, Green could be a right-place-right-time fasttrack project to Anaheim.
Hunter Green, a tried and true success story.
And so it goes.