William Paris Jr. better known to many friends and fans as “Bubba” Paris grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. As a star high school player who attended DeSales High School. His football development continued as he was recruited by the University of Michigan and played for coach Bo Schembechler. While playing at Michigan, they won two big Ten titles. One Rose Bowl Championship and a Blue Bonnet Bowl Championship. In 1982, he was the San Francisco Forty-niners first draft choice. He played with them for nine years; eight of which he started at left tackle. In those nine years, they won three Super Bowl Championships, eight Western Division Titles and played in five NFC Championship games. They were known as the team of the decade. Since his retirement from professional football he formed Paris Enterprises, a marketing and promotional firm. It specializes in creating marketing plans, creating and placing media, implementing promotional speaking, educational seminars, self-esteem workshops and promotional appearances. He also serves as a sports analyst. Bubba has a new book coming out soon titled, “Born for this moment,” in which he shares the road that his life of an athlete as taken and the lessons learned along the way.
Examiner: How old were you when you began playing football? Did you play any other sports besides football growing up?
BP: As a kid I played basketball and football. I began playing football when I was seven years old. One day my friend Roland Starks, was walking by my house coming home from football practice. He was looking like he’d just been through the desert without a sip of water. I asked him where he had been. He said to football practice and he started telling me about this activity called football. He told me how difficult it was and just like most kids did at that time he judged me. Roland said, “Junior you couldn’t never make it through one of those practices.” I thought about it all that night. The next day I went to sign up for the team. Players were supposed to be eight years old. I was only seven but I was so big that no-one asked for a birth certificate. But by the end of the season they did question my age. They thought I may be too old. My football days started off as I wanted to prove to my friend that I was capable of playing in this sport.
I’m just about to complete a book I’ve been writing called “Born for this moment.” In my book I mention how I was called names like, uncle Fester, and baby Hughie. I felt ostracized for being big. But when I was at football practice there were other guys with nicknames like, tubby, big Al, and Moose, where it was alright to be Big Junior. I found my place.
Examiner: Who or what were major motivators in your life that helped you develop your vision of success in football?
BP: When I was growing up I played for two little league teams, the Shawnee Trojans and West End Warriors. The West End Warriors was a team in the south end of Louisville, Kentucky that was known for their great players. The kids with the most potential ended up going to one of the Catholic schools in Louisville, which from my house was about a thirty-five minute car ride. I ended up attending a college predatory school called DeSales High School. DeSales had a pretty decent football program. It was obvious just because of my size I had potential. I was the size of a starting line-man in college but I was only sixteen and not fully developed. Even though I had this mammoth body that looked like it should be able to just dominate on demand I was still immature for my body and mind. I was just beginning to learn how to use this thing which was my body.
When I attended DeSales I had a coach, Jim Kennedy, and it was obvious that I was a big kid and needed conditioning but I was clumsy. I didn’t have perfect footwork. I didn’t know how to play football at the top levels. This was a top level league and DeSales was known for producing great athletes. So kids that went there usually were already accomplished athletes.
Jim didn’t know how to deal with a kid who was willing to be good but not there yet. To make a long story short he discouraged me so much that at the end of that first year I was about to quit playing. Before the next school year began though Jim left to go to another school and the new coach Ron Madrick came in and he just saw me for for I could be. Ron came in and said, “Man you’re going to go to college.” He told me I was great at this sport and he went about helping me to discover how to use this thing that was me. When I was at DeSales coach Madrick took the time to help me develop this thing. He helped me become one with myself. He helped me to understand that this big thing I had is a tool that could be used in this sport. Coach Madrick taught me that my size was something special and unique. He told it to me so much that I began to manifest it, not that I felt this inside, but I started manifesting the potential he saw in me. As I started to get in control of my mind and body Coach Madrick saw the greatness in it. He took the time to call every college in the country to make sure that they understood that I was a player coming up and had unbelievable potential.
Examiner: So Ron Madrick took the next step for you by picking up the phone when you when you were in high school and making phone calls to…
BP: Ron Madrick made phone calls to every – and that’s what really bothers me about some coaches. Some coaches are so stuck on the fact that they are the coach and they have these players that play for them but they don’t understand if a child entrusts his/her life with you, because football is one of the few sports that it’s hard to go through a full year of high school and not be maimed in some kind of way. Players are going to have a hurt finger, leg, ankle, knee something is going to get hurt. It’s impossible to go through very much time without a part of your body sustaining a substantial injury. As a high school player or a little league player I am entrusting my life to someone. I think that if someone entrusts their actual well-being to you that you have an obligation and responsibility that if you show any athletic promise to make sure that everyone in the world knows about it. That you give that child a chance beyond your job. Ron Madrick did what a whole lot of coaches now days don’t do.
Examiner: Ron Madrick was a pivotal point in your career moving forward.
BP: Even before Ron Madrick came along, during my childhood I was bullied as a child by kids that were twelve or fifteen years old. I was six years old and would always run home. I didn’t like to fight. I didn’t like to defend myself because there was such an awkwardness as to who I was and what I was capable of doing. So I got bullied a lot when I was young. I spent much of my time running. I wrote about this recently in a newspaper article for the Chronicle.
One day my father made me fight two kids that were bullying me. When I faced them during the confrontation there was only one shove. When I shoved the kid it was the first time that I had defended myself. Honestly it was like an epiphany for me. The other kids reacted like, “Oh god this kid that we’ve taken for granted, this kid that we’ve terrorized is now brave enough to defend himself. He’s more capable than we are. He’s bigger and stronger than us.” The awakening for me was that this big body when necessary could defend itself. That new mind set was the only thing that gave me the confidence that when I did start little league (football), and I did start other things that when I stood my ground I was able to prevail.
Examiner: Did you plot out and target goals for your football success or did you ride into the next opportunities that came from past success?
BP: I had a crazy life and I write about this in my book. In high school now I am 6’7” and 305 lbs. and it’s time for me to make a decision of where to go to college. I was one of the most highly recruited athletes in the nation. I narrowed my choices down to Purdue University and the University of Michigan. At the time I wanted to become a physical therapist and Purdue had a physical therapy school that was second to none. Purdue also had a quarterback named Mark Herrmann. He was a young promising kid who would have been a sophomore my freshman year. Purdue didn’t have a strong offense and the head coach Jim Young felt that I was capable of starting for the team my freshman year which was something unusual at the time. Coach Young recruited me heavily and personally. The night before making the decision to sign my letter of intent Coach Young was at my house. Michigan also also had a representative, that was at a hotel and would come over to the house to sign me if I chose Michigan. In a last ditch effort to convince me to go to Purdue Coach Young told me, “We believe that you’re the best prospect in the country and we’re going to make you the first person that we sign. When you walk onto the Purdue campus you’re going to be our starter. If you go to Michigan I just want you to know that your reality is that they see you as a project player. You’re going to go there and spend a few years on the scout team and maybe, when you are a junior or senior you’ll get a chance to play.”
I said, “Hold on Michigan said that they would give me a chance.” I got ahold of Bo Schembechler, the Michigan coach by phone, who was at Chuck Roland’s house recruiting him and I told him that Jim Young was at my house and that he told me that you’d rather start Chuck Roland. That he was more important to the Michigan program. Coach Schembechler said that I was important to the program as was Chuck Roland. I said that Coach Young also told me that if I went to Michigan I would be put on the scout team and used as a human practice dummy. Coach Schembechler said I would be put on the scout team because they put all the players on the scout team. The last thing I said to him was, “Coach Schembechler if you come to Kentucky to personally sign me I will commit right now to go to Michigan.” After he listened to me he said, “I will not come to Kentucky to sign you. If you want to come to Michigan you’ve got to make up your mind to come to Michigan. I’m not going to fly to Kentucky to sign you.”
Everything that Coach Young had said to me was basically true. That Coach Schembechler didn’t see me as a strong enough prospect to come to my home town to sign me. That had been my only condition to agree to attend Michigan. I now knew that I was going to be a practice dummy if I went there. I knew he liked Chuck Roland better than he liked me. The next morning I was going to have to make a decision between the two schools. That night I had an epiphany that changed the course of my life. First of all I am a very motivated person. If you tell me I can’t do something then I am very motivated to do it. I couldn’t believe that Coach Young saw me as good enough to start for Purdue but not good enough to start for Michigan. One of the reasons he said this is because in the eighty-two years of Michigan football there had never been a true freshman offensive line-man to start a game at Michigan. Coach Young had a basis for his belief.
My epiphany that night was that I needed Michigan more than Michigan needed me and Purdue needed me more than I needed Purdue. I needed the structure, challenge and everything that was associated with Michigan football. I chose Michigan and went there with the idea to become the first freshman in the history of Michigan football to start. I didn’t go there with the idea that I was going to fall in line with the tradition of offensive line-men of the last eighty-two years. I went with the mindset and model of a plan that I would use to actually start at Michigan. My mindset was that I was going to practice as though I was playing in the biggest Bowl game you could go to, which at the time was the Rose Bowl. I practiced everyday on the scout team as though I was playing in the Rose Bowl. The first day of practice I hurt a first team defensive corner. The next day at practice I hurt a second defensive corner. The coaches didn’t want to put good players against me on the scout team because I was hurting them. Michigan then took me off the scout team. During the summit game of the year when Michigan was playing NorthWestern I became the first freshman in the history of Michigan football to ever start a game as a true freshman.
Examiner: In the nine years you played for the S.F. 49er’s the team won three Super Bowl Championships, eight Western Division Titles and played in five NFC Championship games. When you reflect back on those years is there anything you wish you’d known then or done differently in preparation for the transition phase of your career from football to the next stage of your professional goals?
BP: I was drafted by the S.F. 49er’s in 1982. I was their first pick and twenty-ninth player picked overall in the draft. The 49er’s called me up and told me, “Bubba we are so impressed by your career at Michigan and the fact that you were able to start at Michigan. We feel as though you are able to start for the 49er’s.” The day that the 49er’s called me on the phone and said that I am their first pick at starting left tackle it meant that I was going into the NFL as a starter. It’s funny because as a professional I went to the 49er’s the same way I was going to go to Purdue. I didn’t have to compete for a job or anything because I had shown through my history that I had the capacity of doing it. My career was tainted by the fact that I was one of the first big line-men to ever play. I played ten years which is a long career considering most athletic careers. I played ten years, nine with the 49er’s and during that time I would hear people say that I was big not that I was good.
I blocked for Joe Montana, this marquee quarterback who is in the Hall of Fame and was at pro bowls every year. The reality of it was that there was just me and the best pass rushers one on one who were trying to get to Joe. Some people don’t notice that because they only noticed I was big. I wish when I was playing that people would have seen that I was the beginning of a new era of line-men. Big line-man who are athletic and can do the job well. Before me line-men that were 6’5” and 330 or 360 lb players were considered too fat or big to play so they were never extended the opportunity. But after me teams went looking for these kids that had been previously discarded. Now these players had a chance. The landscape had changed.
Examiner: Your twin daughters Courtney and Ashley play professional basketball. What advice do you share with your daughters regarding having a professional sports career? What do athletes need to stay aware of along the way of a professional career in sports?
BP: My twin daughters, Courtney and Ashley are 6’4” and are big women. One of the things I tell them is that from the top of their heads to the souls of their feet that they are perfect in every way. They are not little women. They are not going to be thin. But they can be athletic and graceful. My daughter Courtney played for the University of Oklahoma and achieved numerous basket ball records that are unparalleled by either male or female college players. Tim Duncan who is one of the best players in the NBA while in college had ninety double doubles which is considered a big record. Courtney hit one hundred and nineteen in a row. She found a way to sustain success which is a key lesson I learned from football. When people judge my daughters by their size and looks I tell them not to worry about it. Either you change the world or the world changes you. It’s alright to be this 6’4” heavy set lady and show people that you can be tenacious on the court. I know from the hard way that it’s possible to change the landscape by doing something so well that in the future teams will look for people to do it the same way as you.
Examiner: Where are they currently playing?
BP: Courtney plays for the WNBA, Tulsa Shock. In the WNBA off season last year both Courtney and Ashley played on a team in Turkey. This year Courtney is in Turkey and Ashley is playing in Russia. Women players make more money over seas. This is their fifth year playing.
Examiner: Through your years as an athlete and now as a minister and motivational speaker are there any quotes, stories or tips that keep you motivated?
BP: There is a quote that motivates me as a minister and professional speaker. This is my quote, “I believe you are born, not to do something, you are born with something to do.” That people are born to do something is not a strong enough statement. That people are born with something to do. That there is something that people have that is so precisely perfect and in tune with themselves. When they discover it, when they become confident in it, that they will give the world something it never had before. When I look at innovation, innovation is something that someone just like you discovered within themselves and gave to the world. I consider myself having an extremely successful football career because I changed the landscape of the game. Now big people like me can play.
I believe that people are born with something to give and to make it a point to be on a mission to give it. This is what I bring out in my speeches whether it be a corporate event, whether it be a spiritual event, or talking to kids at a school assembly. If people can believe that they are born with something to do it helps them understand and manifest the thing locked inside of them.
Three weeks ago I was inducted into the Happiness Hall of Fame. It was something that I thought was funny when it first happened. Depok Chopra is going to be one of the inductees in 2015. There were twelve inductees this year and I was the only football player. I was surrounded by people who are some of the foremost experts on happiness. I was the last speaker and as I listened to these experts I realized that I am seeing and thinking about the world exactly like them. I was being honored not as a football player but as a person who has lived a life of making people happy. I talk about this in my book that one of the foundational pillars of happiness is to understand that you are born with a purpose. Understanding that you are perfect for that purpose is one of the foundations of success.
Examiner: Bubba thank you for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to reading your book.