Though he became famous for carrying the football, former Texas A&M All-America Bubba Bean has always gotten a kick out of construction work. Even during his six-year pro career with the Atlanta Falcons he'd spend the off-seasons helping neighbors remodel their homes in his east Texas hometown of Kirbyville (pop. 2,085). After he left the NFL in 1982 and landed a job in A&M's career planning and placement office, he still kept his hand in construction, often changing clothes in the parking lot after work and heading off to a job site.
But it wasn't until '94, while visiting a friend in Washington, D.C., that Bean decided to try construction full time. After hearing that his friend was retiring to take up woodworking, Bean called A&M and tendered his resignation. "I said to myself, If this guy can do it, why can't I?" recalls Bean, now a general contractor and operator of Bean Construction in College Station, Texas. Recently recovered from hip replacement surgery, Bean works alongside his 12 employees, including his son, Jarrett, and son-in-law, Robert Cooks. He's up at 5 a.m. and doesn't get home until 8 p.m. What little free time he has is spent golfing; visiting his parents, who still live in Kirbyville; or relaxing with his wife of 31 years, Kathy, with whom he has two grown children.
A workhorse running back, Bean rushed for a Texas A&M-record 2,846 career yards as a four-year starter, appearing on SI's cover his senior year after the Aggies ran their record to 10-0 with a victory over archrival Texas. He was a first-round pick by the Falcons in the 1976 NFL draft and had a team-high 428 rushing yards in his rookie season. A torn ACL cost him the '77 season, but he bounced back the next year to lead Atlanta in rushing again (707 yards). However, in '79 Bean lost his starting job to sensational rookie William Andrews, and three years later he retired to Kirbyville.
Needing 16 credits to get his degree in industrial education, Bean re-enrolled at A&M in 1986, graduated that December and settled into an eight-year stint as the university's liaison with companies looking to hire A&M grads. But it wasn't until this fall that he stepped onto Kyle Field for the first time since his senior season. As an honorary captain for the Sept. 18 game against Clemson, Bean walked the sideline and, he says, "tried to stay out of the way."
He's so unassuming that he introduces himself by his given name, Earnest, to the people in College Station who don't immediately recognize him. "They'll ask if I'm any relation to Bubba," says Bean, "and I'll say that I'm real close to that guy." --Brenda Lee