Rick and Bubba: Tales From the Heart
November 7, 2011By John Battle of Sports and Family Magazine
Rick and Bubba: Tales From the Heart
“I just won’t quit”
Some say radio personalities are like dark colored paint – the color you get out of the can is not the true color it dries to. Well then, you haven’t met Rick and Bubba.
Bill Bussey, known to his beloved fans as “Bubba”, of the duo radio personalities, Rick &Bubba (aka The two Sexiest Fat Men Alive, also known to be called, We Be BIG, among other southern aliases that defy description), sits casually behind his desk in his studio office of the Rick and Bubba Show located in Vestavia Hills, AL, dressed in the days uniform - a Scott Dawson ministries t-shirt and a pair of shorts (he may have been wearing shoes, though I didn’t actually see them).
Their new book, *We Be BIG, an honest, open and heartfelt telling of their lives is dedicated to “…all the people whom God placed in our paths to enable us to become the Rick and Bubba Show and to all of you….”
Bubba explains the book, in his syrupy southern drawl, this way: “We try to cover a lot of things on the air, and radio is a great medium, but we wanted to go back and get some of these things down for the long term and it really turned out nice. This is the book we wanted to do all along.”
So, when you listen to Rick and Bubba on the air in near and faraway places, their thanks and dedication is meant for – you.
And when they talk about their relationship with Christ through faith and faith alone, their testimony is not bent on persuading Southern Christians (as well as others) to tune them in but rather to challenge men, women and kids to look past their religion and to look at the person of their Savior and not be ashamed.
And sometimes they chaff those “Southern Christians“ with their on-air debates and witness.
The Rick and Bubba Show ain’t about political correctness. It is about sharing their faith that has been the stabilizing force in their lives – in the good times and in the trials that has and can still visit both of them.
“Nobody’s got a free ride,” Bubba says concerning people’s struggles and difficulties.
Their faith is only one of many subjects talked about, hashed-over, ridiculed, scorned, made fun of, shared, and just plain taken to the cleaners. But no matter the subject, the listener is nearly guaranteed to laugh out loud that driving may become hazardous. **It has been rumored that a thirty car pile-up (no one was injured) was started when the lead car’s driver, while listening to The Rick and Bubba Show, was laughing so hard he lost control of his vehicle.
And yes, in true southern form, there are those occasional come-to-Jesus meetn’s.
So what drives a person to wake at 3:50 every morning just to be at work an hour early?
For Bill “Bubba” Bussey, the answer lies deep within his soul.
He lost his dad at age fifteen. “I thought he was an old guy at the time, he was fifty two; that ain’t too old to a forty seven year old now.”
Laughing, he muses, “He was ripped early. He was a young man. I think I had a really good understanding (about death). I became a Christian at ten, had a good basis and foundation, and you hate to lose anybody who is close to you, especially your dad.
“You can’t imagine riding down the road and it’s just you and your Mom - there was always dad - and to realize he is just not going to be there anymore. And that takes some adjusting, but I knew the deal. We had a good relationship, he was a strong Believer. You know, none of us want to have a protracted illness, and I guess six months is not protracted to some, but I’m glad that we had that time together that we got to talk.
“We knew the situation, and we had time to talk about things and put it into perspective. When you are fifteen, you can only understand what you have to draw on, your world. So, you can only relate to it on that level. And while it may have been simplistic, I had a real peace about it. I loved dad, didn’t want to lose him, but I knew that as Believers everything works for a reason. You don’t see it at the time, and to some degree you don’t completely understand it. Even now I think, ‘You know, what would it have hurt for dad to be here a little longer, to meet my wife, to see his grand kids.’ But in other ways it probably forced me to grow up a little quicker and so I think it all worked out.”
His father was a WWII veteran, serving under General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. He never spoke about his service time.
Though history does.
The Philippines during WWII is synonymous with the Bataan Death March where thousands of U.S. soldiers died as POW’s captured by the Japanese.
“He was always a very hard worker,” Bubba says of his dad. “He worked in a pipe shop, which has to be the worst job on the planet – it was like hell on earth. When I went to visit him at work, there was hot lava and pipes and stink and heat. I saw his tenacity to getting up every morning to go to work. I have always been taught by my mom, as I saw her tenacity to be sure that she finished the job raising me. I saw how they never gave up on anything. My dad had all kinds of physical problems, even before that [his protracted illness]; he had been hurt in an accident at work, and I saw that they just never quit.”
Continuing, he relates, “I know a lot of people get to their breaking point, and they say ‘I just can’t do it anymore’, well, you just go to bed and you get up the next morning and you do it all over again, you just keep going. I’m glad they gave me that. That is probably the biggest gift I got from them other than the spiritual background, I just won’t quit. Now, there are times when we might appear to be lazy, or despondent, or unfocused in anything we do, even as a Christian, as a dad, as a husband. But in sports [and life] I just don’t quit. And I like competing against people who like to compete – who are going to give me all that they have got.”
“I kind of get tickled now,” he explains, “because I took up tennis at forty-two years old. There are days I wonder about that.”
He elaborates: “This past weekend we were in a tennis tournament at Hoover, and we had to play two matches on Saturday. We won the first match with some ease, and the second match was more difficult. We had a rain delay, a wind delay, a lightning delay; we warmed up like four or five times, which is the worst - especially for an old guy – when I get out there I need to stay out there because when I stop I get stiff. We played in the worst conditions, but we just stayed with it and ended up winning, going to the finals. And I had people tell me, ‘You just won’t quit.’”
Continuing, he observes, “We’ve been to state tournaments in Mobile, you know where it’s a hundred degrees on the court, and you have to play two matches a day – and there are times in that second match that you see people give up as to say, ‘Ah, I’m done,’ as they are getting shaky from the exhaustion – and I just won’t quit (emphasis his). I may not run as fast, I may have to dial all my game in a little bit to stay under control, but I will not say to myself, ‘There is no way to win this.’”
“In the Hoover match,” he concludes, “the final match was on Sunday - and it was hot again - it was the third set, it was a 10 point tie break – first team to 10 by 2 points wins. We are down 2 to 5. Then we’re down 8 to 5. Then down 9 to 8, with match point against us. My partner serves the first ball out of bounds, so if he doesn’t hit the box on the next one, we’re done. And the opposing team is fixing to come out of the box, they’re ready to kill somebody to win this thing. We get back and end up winning 11 to 9. And if we had to play 2 more points, I’m telling you, I probably would have fell out across the net. I was so tired from Saturday, but we just did not quit.”
“And that came from my parents,” he explains. “As long as one foot would go in front of the other, they never quit. And that is the great thing about sports that I can relate to growing up playing baseball and basketball and others - you think you can’t go any further and you just put that foot in front of the other. And you narrow it down to a very simple thing – ‘I am not going to quit.’ It’s not technique, not strategy, it’s the ‘I can’t quit mentality.’ And you just get through it and when it’s over you wonder how you did that. You have to narrow the universe down to ‘Just take one more step and let’s see what happens.’”
“One of the things lacking in our society today,” Bubba observes, “ is that when people just get to that point they’ll throw their hands up and say ‘I can’t do it.’ Whether it be marriage or a job – I have seen people in jobs who are just so put out with their boss who say to themselves, ‘You don’t respect me, you don’t honor me, I’m not being paid enough, I’m being mistreated, I don’t like this or that, and they finally say they have had enough and they walk out the door. If they had just come back one more day, you don’t know what will have happened. Maybe that boss is gone. But I think that is sorely lacking in our society right now and I am very thankful to my parents – not that I am the poster child for that – but they really instilled that in me – you do not quit.”
He attributes that partially to one of his father’s rules that “if you signed up for a sport you finished the season. There was no quitting. And if you did quit then you never got to play that sport anymore – you were done. And my dad meant that when he said it, and I knew it, so I didn’t quit.”
Though that wasn’t always the case.
“When I was ten years old playing baseball I thought, You know I’m being stuck out here in the outfield and I’m being so mistreated and there’s two or three of them that are the coach’s pets, they’re getting this and that, and every time they get a hit they praise them and when the rest of us get a hit, especially me, they won’t say anything.”
Continuing, he says, “I remember coming home one day, and it was probably the maddest I have ever been, and I thought, You know, what is the use. They are running us like dogs out here, its hot, I’m stuck so far in the outfield I need another zip code.”
“I’m thinking about quitting,” he told his dad. “They will never miss me, I’m just warming the bench and nobody cares.”
His father looked at him square in the eyes and said, “Well, I care, and you should care. I don’t care if they mistreat you. I don’t care if the coach is an idiot – you do not quit. You do what they say, when they say it, give them a hundred and ten percent, and when the season is over, then you hang it up and you quit complaining.”
Bubba thought, Gosh, am I going to have to go through this again?
He stuck it out.
Years later, as an owner of a faltering radio station on the verge of bankruptcy, he says of that period, “I think that at that point I had hopefully matured in my faith to a point that I knew that God was at work. It obviously didn’t make sense to me. I had worked very hard at that station – selling (advertising) in the daytime and engineering at night. I loved that radio station; it was my toy, my job, my hope, my future. I saw retiring from there - I could imagine the retirement party. I could imagine the kids working there one day even though I didn’t have any kids at the time. I could just imagine the promotions we would do and what the news stories would be. It really was a baby and its failure was a tough pill to swallow. You think if you work hard enough and do the right things, you should get the expected result which is success – but it’s not always the case.”
There was one biblical lesson he took away from that experience.
“I had never worked harder at a job than that,” Bubba confesses. “I never lamented over a job than I did at that station. And it’s kind of funny when God gets involved - obviously He had other plans. And it is very possible that that station had become an idol in my life; too much, I loved it too much,” he admits.
Speaking on life’s unpredictable swings he states with confident euphemism, “You know, if I was the dictator of the world, I could fix a lot of things - which I realize some things are just out of your control. [What that experience] taught me is that whatever area God has given you; your life, a family, a job, a boss, a radio station, a show, you are responsible for that. I cannot change President Obama, I can’t change everything that is wrong with our country, but I am responsible for me and what I am doing. And that is where I have to make the changes and the adjustments and then go out from there.”
Bubba remembers that after the station went dark, literally, as the power was cut off due to non-payment of the bill, “I had a peace about it,” he says. “I knew that God was at work, but it doesn’t make it any easier when the bill collectors are beating your door down, and you look like a moron, and you realize you look like a moron to everybody, but you know inside that that’s not the case, and you know there is a bigger deal going on, but it never happens on the time table we want.”
Continuing, he says, “But God took away that one AM station in Jacksonville, AL., where the staff objected whenever I did a commercial on the air because I have this terrible country accent, and He replaced it with The Rick and Bubba Show, and we are now on 70 stations. It’s such a God thing.
His message to high school kids is this: “As cool as you think you are now, and as much as you think you have it figured out right now, you are going to look back when you are twenty five and think you were pretty stupid, and when you get to thirty, you’re going to think you were pretty stupid at twenty five, and when you are forty you are going to think you were pretty stupid at thirty – so the overriding message now is to think ‘I probably don’t have it all together now, at this exact time, so it doesn’t hurt to learn something every day.’ And as uncool as your parents are, they have been teenagers too, and probably what they are telling you is the right thing, even though you don’t want to hear it a lot of times. They are trying to save you from headache. Though there is no lesson learned like a lesson learned. Sometimes you just have to go through it yourself; you just hope you don’t make mistakes that last you a lifetime. “
Concluding, Bubba says, “What you hear on the air, warts and all, that is pretty much it. We like to have a good time; first and foremost, we love the Lord, second, we like to have a good time. We are going to enjoy this gift called life to the best of our ability. I like to laugh, and it is apparent I like to eat, a little too much at times (if you want to get on his very good side, bring him a plate of sushi), my temple is a little out of order and it needs some work. I love my family, I love my friends, and I am looking forward spending an eternity with them in heaven. Until we get there, we will get through life, together.”
*Rick Burgess and Bill “Bubba“ Bussey, with Don Keith, authored We Be BIG. They are New York Times Best – Selling authors.
**To find The Rick and Bubba Show on your nearest radio station, go to their website www.rickandbubba.com.
“It’s not about you”
Sitting across from Rick Burgess at the studio of The Rick and Bubba Show, in Vestavia Hills, AL, sporting his business attire of a favorite t-shirt and shorts, Rick, in his all-familiar voice had something on his mind to say.
He spoke about growing up, playing football on Burgess Field; a makeshift football field in his parents front yard complete with goal posts, uniforms for each opposing side, theatrical sports music playing from a record player hooked up to an extension cord from the house, and play-by-play announcers calling the game into a tape recorder that would be re-played later for their indoors entertainment. All participants were under the age of “teen” qualifications.
“Though we loved the sports in their purest form,” Rick says in typical Rick Burgess non-stop oratory fashion, “organized sports were not something that introduced us to sports. But it was not as much fun as what we did in the neighborhood. I loved sports and I love the game of football, I think I could have been a much better baseball player if I had put the effort into it. Basketball was just one of those things you did when you weren’t playing football or baseball. And as I have the body type for a defensive lineman, that is not he body type for basketball. But I was drawn into the sport that had the biggest entertainment value.”
Without pause he continues, “And where I grew up (Oxford, Alabama) football was king. I didn’t want to put the effort into a sport that wasn’t going to deliver anything in return. And people would ask me, ‘You didn’t play for the love of the game?’ and that was not my motivation. I did play because I did love the game, though I did not like the workouts and the practices. My son, who now plays at Auburn, is always being commented on his work ethic. And I have to remind him that he’s not like me, he’s like his *grandfather (Coach Bill Burgess). I was a clown in football just like I was a clown in the classroom, and I was gifted to play the game from genetics and so it came easy to me, and I didn’t work hard at it. So unfortunately, when it came time to go to the next level, and I got injured in the playoffs (his senior year in high school), I think that cost me a Division I scholarship because if I had worked as hard along with the talent I had, I would have been the player, though hurt, scouts would have been interested in. I played football because football had the biggest crowds, it was a show.”
He went to Troy on full scholarship, where he says, “The crowds were smaller than what I played in high school.” If he had gone to Auburn, where before his injury he seemed destined, he would probably have continued to play. “As shallow as that sounds, I was that person who thought, ‘Does the work pay-off on the big stage, and does anyone care about the big games?’ And playing at Troy I did not feel that they did.
“I did not love the game enough to keep playing even with a full scholarship. And if there was anything redeeming about me at all about that time, I think it was that I felt like I was taking money that somebody else should have; someone who loved the game. So I walked off and I would have been on the ** national championship team that year – but I quit. I wanted to be an entertainer more than I wanted to be a football player.”
But Rick Burgess had something else on his mind he really wanted to say.
The conversation shifted from football and college to his show business mentality: “The first memories I have of anything was wanting to be an entertainer, “ he says.
His mom, Geynell, minding her own business with her routine housework, would be routinely interrupted by her imaginative son with announcements of neighborhood attractions such as the time that he had opened an amusement park in the woods behind their house and she had to get some money because it was going to cost to attend.
He would recruit his friends from the neighborhood, sell them on his vision, then orchestrate the construction, acting, and scenes to accomplish the task, such as Frontier Land, where his buddies dressed up as cowboys and Indians. There was once a puppet show in attendance. But one his finest moments was the creation of a circus with the family beagle and his brother painted up as clowns as the starring attractions. Popcorn and drinks were sold - for a profit of course.
Though Rick Burgess really didn’t want to reminisce over his youth.
What was on Rick’s mind was revealed as he talked about kids and parents and sports and the passion of his life – the relationship that changes the very course of one’s life.
Opening upon this chapter of life, Rick muses, “One of the things that sports does for a child, no matter their athletic ability, for far too many parents don’t want to expose their child to sports at all, and I think that is a mistake because one of the things sports does is, just as the Apostle Paul talks about as he refers to sports - running and participating - is perseverance. He wants to reach the prize (being in Heaven with the Lord, Christ); he wants to say he ran the race well, that he persevered.
“Since God created sports, I think it is used to teach you how to be in a place where you no longer think you can stand up, or you can take the next step, and you do. When I am hiring people, if I see that they didn’t participate in sports, there is always a concern whether or not they’re going to be able to cut it. Are they going to be dependable, or if the chips get down are they going to be able to deal with it. So, I believe that when you go through what we have gone through (losing his son) too many times we try to build this little world around this generation of children where we hope that nothing bad ever happens to them; they never get hurt.
“They (parents) don’t want them (their children) to be yelled at. They don’t want their spirit to be broken, or their feelings to be hurt. They don’t want them to experience that life can be unfair like ‘Maybe I should be playing and not be on the bench.’ We try to take all those scenarios away in thinking that we are making them better, when really we have made life more dangerous for them that it ever was for us growing up. What are they going to do when one day they suddenly get a call that one of their children dies while they were speaking somewhere and their wife and children are waiting on them to come home and tell them it is going to be alright. How are they going to do that? How are they going to say that everyone needs me to stand right now while everybody else can’t? How are they going to be tough enough to do that - how are they going to have that experience [at an early age], that responsibility?”
He continues, “And as I look back at that time, I see how God was able to strengthen me in that situation. And the perspective is that the things I had been through in sports that had allowed me to struggle and feel the struggle and know that everyone was depending upon me [because] it’s not all about me.”
Speaking of that time in the present tense, Rick explains, “I want to grieve just as they are but right now I have to know that everybody is okay first.”
There were several revelatory perspectives that changed from that event for Rick. He relates that for one, “Sports is a wonderful thing, and it can be used by God as a great tool for teaching, but in itself, sports is a lousy god. At the end of the day, the things that we do that are eternal are the things that are going to matter. I tell my son, who plays for Auburn right now, ‘If you are given this platform and at the end of it all it has no impact for the kingdom of God, then it’s meaningless. God has given you sports as a platform of influence. But if you take that influence and it turns into sexual immorality, drunkenness, self-indulgence, decadence, you can make all the all-star teams in the world but you are a failure.
“But let’s say you never become a star on the field but you have an incredible impact for the kingdom of God, then you have been a success. That’s why you are there. The ultimate is to have success on the field and to have an impact for the kingdom, if God grants you that.
“There is a certain freedom you have going through what we [he and his family] have and that is you don’t sweat stuff that doesn’t matter.
“Our [family] perspective changed to being concerned about being totally tied to the impact we have as individuals and as a family for the kingdom of God and nothing else. I can’t control other things. I can’t control when a radio programmer wants to take the show off the air for some stupid reason, there is nothing I can do about that (for complete details, read their new book). I can’t do anything when one my kids in sports, something happens, and it doesn’t seem fair. But this is what you can control – you can control the impact you have for the team – and the Burgess’, as to what I and my wife teach our children – we’re here to have an impact for the kingdom of God. We’re here to try and be successful in the real competition that matters, the real score that matters, and that is when we stand before our Savior, are we going to hear ‘well done good and faithful servant?’ or are we going to hear, ‘you tried to do well for the world, but not for Me – and you missed the mark.’
“If you don’t get a well done for Him (Christ), but are trying to get a well done from your fans, or your boss, [or] from the world, it is meaningless. “
To illustrate, Rick uses the analogy of strengthening and endurance by adding weights to an exercise. The more the weight placed upon the body, the more endurance the body produces.
“The weight makes it hard to do what you are doing,” he says, “but the end result is that it makes you stronger. And that’s how we live our lives now, we carry the weight of the separation from our loved one, and the horrific tragedy of going through of what we went through, but at the end of it, it has strengthened our endurance. For the Burgess family, we just don’t sweat the little stuff.”
“And for our children,” he continues, “it has really taken the pressure off them – there were so many things they were trying to be successful at that they couldn’t control.
“They say, ‘Then you will be proud of me if I have an impact for God and His kingdom?’
“I say, ‘Yes, because if you get that right, then you will be the right kind of wife, the right kind of husband, the right kind of child, and employee and athlete.’
Continuing, he relates, “You see, we (as a culture) have tried to make them all these kind of things, but we have not told them how to follow Christ. And when you try to teach them about Christ in reverse, it is very difficult, for they have already learned to love the world.”
In conclusion, Rick recites what he teaches his 12th graders in his Bible class at his church; “You know, when we were growing up, everybody believed in Jesus, but not everyone followed Jesus – it was a cultural Christianity. ***James chapter two says ‘Congratulations, you are even with the demons, for they believe in Him, too (paraphrased).’”
Rick adds, “This generation wants adults to tell them the truth: to understand that following Christ is right. If you’ll do the things He wants you to do, and concentrate on doing things that will have an impact for the kingdom, everything else will fall into place. And it is not that you will have health, wealth, and prosperity, because that is a false gospel, but that whatever comes your way, you’re ready for it. You understand it. And I tell them that they can have all the accolades in the world, but if they don’t get that one thing right – it is all meaningless.
“And if you ask a young person what they really want out of life, and get them to tell you the truth, they want peace in their life. They want to know that everything is going to be all right. Even when it doesn’t look like it is going to be all right. That’s when I hit them with John 16:33, what my family has been clinging to for the last three years. Jesus says, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world’ (NAS translation).
“Then I emphasize, ‘In this world you will have tribulation…,’ not that you might. ‘But, take heart, because I [Jesus] have overcome the world.’
“The horrible lesson all human beings struggle with and have from the beginning of time is, it’s not about you – there is something bigger than you. And if you are going to serve self, self will never be satisfied. God gave me a passion for this (being an entertainer) since I was a kid. The question becomes, will I honor God with it?” And in secular radio, the question becomes, do I compartmentalize God and do some things for Him, or do I do all things for Him?
“And that is where I found 1 Corinthians 9:22 where Paul relates that, ‘…he became all things to all people [men],’ and he said that he had to win them over first (in trust) that then he may present the gospel to them.
“And God began to teach me that I could do a radio show without compromising.”
And so he does.
Rick and Bubba have a new book just published by Thomas Nelson, “We Be Big: The Mostly True Story … of Rick and Bubba” with Don Keith. You may order directly from their website at www.rickandbubba.com.
*Coach Bill Burgess is a graduate of Jones Valley High School, Birmingham, AL, and lettered in football at Auburn. He began his coaching career as a football assistant at Banks High School, Birmingham, AL, and in 1967 became head football coach at Woodlawn High School, also in Birmingham. In 1971, Coach Burgess began a 14- year tenure as head football coach at Oxford High School, Oxford, AL. Then, in 1985, Burgess became head football coach at Jacksonville State University. His team won the 1992 NCAA division II National Championship and in 12 seasons JSU earned five straight invitations to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Coach Burgess was a three-time Gulf South conference Coach-of- the Year selection and was named the 1992 NCAA Division II National Coach-of-the-Year. He was inducted into the Jacksonville State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
**Coach Chan Gailey led the Trojans to the 1984 NCAA Division II National Championship
*** James 2:19