Former NFL star finishes his college degree to keep a promise to deceased father


By Victor Ochieng

Former football star and Hall of Famer Bobby Bell isn’t like many who just take it easy in retirement. Instead, he took his time this semester to finalize things so he could earn his college degree, and of course, he did.

The 74-year-old, who played in two Super Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs, looked restless as he eagerly waited for the special moment. He was ready in his black cap and gown and was often checking his watch.

It was understandable since Bell, who took his lessons at the University of Minnesota, had been yearning for the day he would earn his degree.

One of the University of Minnesota representatives asked the two-time All-American if he was okay talking to the media while wearing the gown and his response just confirmed that he cherished the moment and was honored to be in his graduation attire.

“Are you serious?” Bell said with a smile. “I waited long enough to wear these.”

Bell’s companion, Pamela Held, even said jokingly that “he’ll probably sleep in it tonight.”

For Bell, this moment in his life is quite significant. Knowing that he had dropped out of college to pursue a professional football career, it’s clear it was a great opportunity for him to achieve something that slipped from his grasp close to 50 years ago.

The watch he was wearing also meant a lot to him. It came from his father, Pink Lee Bell. His father gave it to him in 1959 when he was leaving Shelby, N.C. in pursuit of opportunities. As he parted ways with his dad, Pink Lee called him back and handed him the watch, saying, “I want you to be on time. You need a good watch.”

That watch has been a source of inspiration for Bell, but at the same time, it has also haunted him. Every time he pulled it out, he would remember the words of his father and remember his unfulfilled dream, which was to earn his degree. He wanted to do it, he had to do it, and, yes, he did it at 74.

When he finally earned his degree in parks, recreation and leisure studies, Bell felt that was the peak of his life.

“This is the top of the pyramid, man,” Bell said. “This is the top of the pyramid.”

The process wasn’t easy for him, though. He had to learn new technology in order to take his course online.

“It was tough,” Bell said. “I spent a lot of nights on the road with my iPad. … I wanted to do something, I wanted to do it right. I didn’t want to be the guy to fall behind.”

Now that he’s fulfilled his dream, he has every reason to smile.



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