NC State

How NC State’s football team turned Burt Reynolds into a movie star

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.

This story was originally published in 2017.

The way the story goes, N.C. State ended Burt Reynolds’ football career at Florida State and made him into a movie star.

But is it true?

Here’s what we know:

The Wolfpack, 3-0 and ranked 13th nationally, went to Florida State on Oct. 12, 1957 and won the nonconference game 7-0.

The News & Observer reported the “scrappy, fired-up” Seminoles gave the Pack trouble for 60 minutes but were beaten on a touchdown scored late in the first half.

The touchdown play

With eight seconds left in the half, Wolfpack halfback Dick Christy broke free in the secondary and hauled in a 46-yard scoring pass from quarterback Ernie Driscoll.

The rub: Christy, by all accounts, ran out of bounds on the FSU sideline, making him an ineligible receiver on the play. Legend has it he never broke stride and circled behind the FSU bench, which seems unlikely, before emerging down the field behind an unsuspecting Reynolds. Wide open, he scored.

The 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.”

No flag on the play. The touchdown stood, Christy kicked the extra point and the Pack won.

Burt Reynolds starred in 1972’s “Deliverance,” which featured the song “Dueling Banjos.” Warner Bros. Entertainment Associated Press

The victim

Reynolds, known to his teammates as “Buddy,” had been a star halfback at Palm Beach High in West Palm Beach, Fla. — his father was a police chief — and played well as an FSU freshman in the 1954 season.

Then came a knee injury in 1955. These days, arthroscopic surgery would have cleaned up the knee. But Reynolds had reconstructive surgery, later saying the surgeon butchered the knee during the operation.

After dabbling in acting, Reynolds returned to the football team in 1957. The game against N.C. State was FSU’s third of the ‘57 season … and Reynolds’ last.

FSU coach Tom Nugent, a crusty sort, chewed out Reynolds at halftime, 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.

If there were two Seminoles defenders who were “outmaneuvered” on the touchdown, as the N&O reported, only one was blamed. Famously.

Burt Reynolds in “Smoky and the Bandit II,” where Reynolds drives a 1980 Trans Am. The Cary theater is showing several Burt Reynolds movies Nov. 29 and 30 to pay tribute to the actor who died in September. On Nov. 30, “Smokey and the Bandit” will show at 7 p.m. Universal Studios

The aftermath

As Reynolds later put it, he said, “The hell with it.” Football was over.

In later interviews, Reynolds would mention Christy, the All-American who died in 1966, and the touchdown catch as a turning point for him. That always amused Driscoll, later an N.C. State assistant coach under Earle Edwards, who said he threw the pass and never had his name come up.

Driscoll, the third-string quarterback, also completed a 15-yard pass to Christy before the TD throw.

The rest is box-office history. Reynolds won the 1956 Florida State Drama Award and went to New York. He later outraced and befuddled Jackie Gleason in that famous Trans-Am in “Smokey and the Bandit,” earned acclaim as an actor in “Deliverance” and made millions.

Reynolds once joked that he came to FSU because he was told a women’s dormitory — Reynolds Hall — was named for him. There later would be Burt Reynolds Hall — for the FSU athletes.

Reynolds, 81, remains a big FSU football supporter. One has to think he’ll be watching Saturday when Pack and ‘Noles play again in Tallahassee - perhaps Dick Christy on his mind, 60 years later.

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Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip