Rodger Bird, the most successful football player in the history of Corbin, passed away Saturday, May 16, in Henderson, Ky., at the age of 76.
Rodger Bird was the youngest and last of the athletically gifted Bird brothers from Corbin.
He was preceded in death by brothers Billy, Calvin and Jerry, all of whom had starred in football and basketball at Corbin High School and the University of Kentucky.
From an early age there was no doubt that the youngest of the Bird brothers was bound for stardom. As a witness to the accomplishments of Jerry, Calvin and Billy before, Rodger must have known that the bar was set high, but it was no jump for a leaper.
Roger Bird was a magnificent athlete with all the qualities demanded for stardom.
He was quick, fast, strong, tough and most importantly, he had the mind set necessary to excel.
He led the 1960 Redhound team to Corbin High School’s last undefeated season highlighted with a 46-34 win over Louisville Dupont Manual as Rodger scored five touchdowns. But not only could Rodger score touchdowns, he was one of the best defensive players to ever wear a Redhound uniform.
Rodger was a consensus First Team All-State selection both his junior and senior years. He was named High School All-American as a senior. He also starred in basketball making All-District and All-Region.
The fame he gained at Corbin high was just the beginning. This youngest child of Bonnie and Reuben Bird was granted a football scholarship to play at the University of Kentucky. In his first varsity game against Virginia Tech he took the kick-off and sprinted for a touchdown. This was a sign of the greatness to come.
In high school he had played both offense and defense. The Wildcats had him doing the same thing. He was such a standout at UK that once again people throughout the Commonwealth were talking about the Bird brothers from Corbin. Rodger was inducted into the UK Hall of Fame in September of 2005. He was named consensus All-American and drafted in the first round of the NFL by the Oakland Raiders.
He continued to gain attention in the NFL and was named the defensive “Rookie of the Year” in his first year of professional football.
He also set a new record for punt return yardage. What a thrill it was for the people of Corbin and southeastern Kentucky as they watched Rodger, dressed in the Raider’s black and silver, playing in the Super Bowl, an accomplishment that no other player from this part of the country has ever done.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, in 2016 the National Football League presented high schools across the nation a golden football to honor players who had participated in the championship game. Rodger was the first native Kentuckian to play in a Super Bowl. Ceremonies were held at the high school to honor Rodger and now the golden football is displayed in a trophy case there.
In 2017 Rodger was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.
When people talk about the greatest players ever to wear a Wildcat jersey, they include the name of Rodger Bird. The last of the Bird brothers came a long way from being a member of the little league South Ward Wildcats to gaining fame as a Redhound, a Wildcat and as a Raider.
Rodger is survived by his wife Sally, two children, Sue Ann and Paul, and seven grandchildren. The complete obituary information is located in Section B, page-4 of the News Journal.