Rodger Bird loved Corbin. He loved it as much as anybody I have ever known.
About six years ago, when my wife Judy and I moved to Henderson, Ky. to be with our daughter and grandchildren, on the day we moved in there was a knock on the door. It was Rodger Bird. From that day forward he became one of the closest friends I have ever known. Not only that, he and his wife Sally became such good friends that Judy and I felt like they were family.
The reason Rodger knocked on my door that day was because he knew I was from Corbin, and everybody in Corbin was his friend. I had met and spoken to him several times over the years, but since I am five years older than him most of his playing days at Corbin High School were done while I was in college. I was a classmate of his older brother Calvin at CHS, who was also a close friend, and Calvin was one of the reasons I wanted to go to the University of Kentucky.
I had the fortune to call the play-by-play of some of Calvin’s games on the radio when he was starring for the Wildcats. Then after I graduated from UK I came back to Corbin to do the play-by-play for the Corbin Redhounds. The first game I broadcast had Rodger Bird in the backfield.
Through the years, like many of you, I followed his heroics at UK and with the Oakland Raiders. But it was that day in Henderson when I got to know the real Rodger Bird.
During the many hours we spent together he didn’t talk much about UK or the Oakland Raiders, rather he wanted to talk about friends in Corbin, his high school days, his family, hunting in the south Corbin hills. It was all mostly about Corbin.
Rodger didn’t care much about accolades for himself. He had very few mementoes in his office and home from his college and professional days. Gary West, also a close friend of Rodger and Sally, and the author of the book The Boys from Corbin, met Rodger at a civic club in Henderson where Gary was the speaker. He told Rodger that he would like to write a book about him. Rodger would have nothing of that. He told Gary that he could write about all the boys from Corbin, but not just him.
When the National Football League announced that they were going to present Rodger with a Golden football for playing in the Super Bowl, Rodger didn’t seem that enthused about the personal recognition.
I helped organize a ceremony, to be held at Corbin high School, for Rodger to present the ball to the school. Principal Johnny Crawford did a marvelous job of coordinating the event.
All the students, including the band and choir were there that afternoon, along with townspeople, that filled Gilliam Gym. After that event Rodger was elated with everything that happened.
It was the same way when he was put into the Kentucky Hall of Fame in Louisville. Not too enthused at first, but when he saw the turnout from Corbin he was thrilled.
Rodger never met a stranger, and everybody he met liked him. I saw that in people on our social occasions.
Judy and I both cherish the moments we spent with him and Sally. The good times, the laughter, the reminiscing.
You can’t get any greater than Rodger was in football, but that was also true about him as a person. I’m sad, very sad, that he is gone. He and his brothers gave us an era of greatness by a family that will never be repeated.
I am thankful that I got to see them all in action, and I’m thankful that Rodger Bird came into my life six years ago to become a close friend. My condolences to Sally, his children and his grandchildren.
We will never forget him.