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Calvin Bird, his brothers and several other stand-out athletes are portrayed in Gary P. West’s book The Boys from Corbin, America’s Greatest Little Sports Town.
However, at a recent lunch prepared by his wife, Pat, former Taylor County Clerk Randall Phillips reminisced about his friend he knew after his football glory days at the University of Kentucky.
“We were good friends for several years around 1966 (a couple of years after he and Pat were married),” Phillips told me and our buddy Wayne Baxter. “Our kids grew up together and we were at their house or they were over to ours (in Elizabethtown).
“Calvin and I worked together at GTE before he left with ITT and later owned his own company and moved to Tennessee.”
Bird was a halfback/kick returner from 1958-1960 and set five school records. He was MVP in the All-American All-Star game and led the SEC in pass receiving as a sophomore. His jersey was retired in 1997.
A summer or so ago, Bird passed through Campbellsville and looked up (in the phone book) his good buddy, Phillips, who called Baxter to come over and meet his long-time friend.
“I’d seen him play and knew how good he’d been at UK,” said Baxter, a noted local UK sports historian.
“Wayne was getting ready to go fishing and he just came out here with his boat,” smiled Phillips, who was Taylor County’s clerk for some 29 years.
It turned out it would be the last long conversation between the ex-GTE workers as Bird passed away in June.
Phillips and Baxter told of how Bird had scored all eight points in a 6-2 Kentucky victory over Tennessee — a touchdown for the Wildcats and a safety for Tennessee after going in the wrong direction. Thus, grinned Phillips, “that’s where the name Wrong Way Bird came in.”
Baxter also told of a game where Bird scored 19 of Kentucky’s 20 points, only missing the chance for all 20 when he threw the football up in the stands and the coach let someone else boot the UK’s final extra point.
There were four Bird brothers who went on to have great collegiate success — Calvin, Billy and Roger in football and Jerry in basketball.
Roger had a stellar career as a defensive back with the Oakland Raiders while Jerry’s son, Steve, was a stand-out receiver at Eastern Kentucky and has worked in front offices with NFL teams.
Phillips said he and Calvin, who was also recruited by Bear Bryant at Alabama, also sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners on the side.
“We made a big commission off those,” laughed Phillips, who said they had Bird’s mother-in-law turn in the revenue on her taxes.
“That’s where Randall got his political skills,” offered Baxter.
“He was always active with young people,” Phillips said of Bird’s popularity. (He actually had two overflow funeral services, one in Tennessee and another in his native Corbin.)
“I’m glad I got to see him,” Phillips said. “We really enjoyed the visit.”
The book tells about Corbin’s success in athletics with stories also on Frank Selvy and Roy Kidd. It also has blurps concerning a couple of former Taylor Countians — former superintendents and football coaches Dave Fryrear (Campbellsville) and Walt Green (Taylor County).