Bill Neal: ‘Prime Time’—Before there was Deion, there were people like ‘The Rabbit,’ Hubie Bryant!


As is oftentimes the case with you young folks, and no shade intended, you tend to think that it all just happened yesterday, when in fact, truth be told, “ALL THAT GLITTERS AIN’T GOLD AND EVERYTHING NEW IS OLD!”

Case in point, “Hip Hip Hooray,” the anthem that celebrates the worldwide greatness that is today’s 50 years of music history brought to you by the group Naughty By Nature, has roots and is not easily forgotten. The legends that gave way to legends, James Brown, aka the Godfather of Soul, Jackie Wilson, all of Motown, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, and if you want to go real deep, you are reminded of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and of course, Little Richard, just to name a few.

The same can be said about “Prime Time.” By definition, that being a multi-talented superior athlete who is second to none, as stated by his actions, not his words. Allow me to take you back to one of the original “Prime Time Specialists.” To be fair, there have been several. Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown, to be sure. But the focus here is East Coast and contemporary.

The Lincoln Park neighborhood of Penn Hills featured numerous great, great athletes. Jack Burnham, Norm Thomas, Danny Smith, Jeff Rideout, the late Mike Anderson, Dwayne Rideout, Reggie Jackson, and Ted Morton, just to name a few. But there was a gap between that greatness and that of “The Rabbit”….aka Hubie Bryant!

The nickname alone tells you half the story.  A lightning quick triple-threat superstar athlete who could have been a quad star if he chose to play baseball. But his star shined brightest on the football field where he did any and everything carrying a football that the game allowed. Neither time nor space will allow me to account for the legend and electricity that “The Rabbit” produced. But suffice to say there are still some WPIAL teams from that ‘64 season that are still trying to tackle him!

The greater part of that success was made possible for three reasons: #1, a 5-10, 170-pound frame that allowed for a 4.2 40 even back then, as well as state-rated 220 and low hurdle times. As a matter of fact, Bryant’s Penn Hills High School and state championship low hurdle record still stands and will never be broken. And the third sport of basketball, he played past you for the fun and embarrassment of it all to you.

On to the Big Ten where he achieved national status at the University of Minnesota where he is forever enshrined in the Golden Gophers Hall of Fame. His pro career started with the Cleveland Browns in 1968, on to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1970, and then with the New England Patriots in 1971.

Now to the #2 reason for all that success…“Heart” and a ton of it! He asked for no mercy and he gave none. And don’t let the size fool ya. He would go past you, over you or through you! Your choice.

The #3 reason for the success is most important. The integrity, the intelligence, the process. Raised like most of us from “L.P.” by a strong, dedicated mother to be the best man you can be. But, however you get there, you do it with hard work, ultimate commitment, sacrifice and respect. And don’t forget where you came from.

The stories are true, we all wanted to be “H.B.” Not only because of the style he set in clothes, or because he drove the state’s first double-bubble top Corvette, and not even for the glory —girls—and gold!  We wanted to be like Hubert Lavann Bryant because he was and still is a winner. And back in the day, that’s what was most important on any field, or any level.

Of course we stand in awe of today’s “Prime Time,” the great Deion Sanders. After all, he’s the only man to ever run a touchdown back in an NFL game at 1 p.m. and hit a home run in an MLB game at 8 p.m. And history will continue to applaud what he did for Jackson State and HBCUs.  And Lord knows, the message has been sent and received at the Division 1 college football level with Colorado. “We’re not just coming, we’re here!”

Trust me, Mr. Bryant isn’t drawing this contrast, I am. But for me, one of the Lincoln Park few who was fortunate enough and able to reach Hall of Fame status because of “Hubie,” MY PRIME TIME HERO HAILS FROM LINCOLN PARK, PA. HIP-HOP HOORAY!




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