Burt Reynolds dies at 82: Did NC State loss lead ‘Stroker Ace’ to Hollywood career?

Burt Reynolds talks transitioning to acting after playing his last game against NC State

Burt Reynolds played his last collegiate game against NC State in 1957, where he was beaten for the winning touchdown. He discussed his transition from football to acting at the Macon Film Festival in 2015.
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Burt Reynolds played his last collegiate game against NC State in 1957, where he was beaten for the winning touchdown. He discussed his transition from football to acting at the Macon Film Festival in 2015.

Actor and former college football player Burt Reynolds has died at 82 years old, according to his agent.

But that Hollywood career may never have happened if not for a football game in Tallahassee against the N.C. State Wolfpack.

Reynolds had ambitions to play football professionally, but those hopes were dashed after the loss to N.C. State University on Oct. 12, 1957, Reynolds said in a 2007 interview posted on YouTube.

During the 7-0 loss, Reynolds, who played for the Florida State University Seminoles, was beaten in coverage for the game-winning and only touchdown, which he attributed to injuries on and off the field that season.

“I was playing on one leg,” he says in the interview.

The News & Observer reported in 1957 that the “scrappy, fired-up” Seminoles gave the Pack trouble for 60 minutes in Tallahassee but were ultimately beaten on a touchdown scored late in the first half, Chip Alexander reported for The News & Observer in 2017. Reynolds was playing corner.

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The game’s only score was Reynolds’ touchdown loss.

“I had a tremendous freshman year, then I had gotten hurt at the beginning of my sophomore year and had my knee operated on,” Reynolds says in the interview. “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.”

Dick Christy beat Reynolds to the ball for the Wolfpack’s only touchdown.

To hear Reynolds tell it, Christy — in an unconventional move — ran out of bounds right into the Seminoles’ sideline during the play – moving right through the bench area before making his way back to the field behind Reynolds to catch the pass.

Reynolds said in the interview that because of Christy’s move, he “went out of my eyeline,” and Reynolds wasn’t quick enough to beat Christy to the ball.

The 1957 N&O: “Christy, a 190-pound speed boy, outmaneuvered two Seminole defenders at the 30, grabbed the lazy, lofty toss and dashed into the end zone.”

There was no flag on the play, the N&O reported.

At halftime, FSU coach Tom Nugent, scolded Reynolds, “loudly saying it would be his fault if the Seminoles lost. Reynolds later said no one would come within 20 yards of him in the second half as he sat on the bench, apparently fearing the wrath of Nugent,” Chip Alexander reported for The N&O. “If there were two Seminoles defenders who were ‘outmaneuvered’ on the touchdown, only one was blamed. Famously.”

After the loss to the Wolfpack, Reynolds said he talked about his future with his roommates.

“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 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.’”

After the loss to N.C. State, Reynolds gave up the game and began his acting career.

Reynolds also played the lead in the eponymous “Stroker Ace” 1983 NASCAR racing movie filmed in North Carolina and Georgia.

Filming in North Carolina was based at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord in September 1982.

As news of Reynolds’ death began to circulate on Thursday, people began to offer condolences and memories of the acclaimed actor, perhaps best known for roles in “Deliverance,” “Boogie Nights” and “Smokey and the Bandit.”

NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted: “’Stroker Ace was born to race’ Much respect to you Burt Reynolds. RIP.”

No details were immediately available about Reynolds’ death, the Associated Press reported.

An aging, former movie star is forced to face the reality that his glory days are behind him.

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