For more than 50 years after he played his last football game for the University of Minnesota in 1962, through an NFL Hall of Fame career with the Chiefs and a full, rich life after, Bobby Bell felt an emptiness from one thing he lacked: a college degree that would fulfill a promise to his late father.
On Thursday, though, Bell flew with family and friends from Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport to Minnesota to celebrate commencement at the school where he became a two-time All-American and Outland Trophy winner.
“Right now, I just feel so great,” Bell said before the ceremony, still wearing his cap and gown long after he was posing in it for photos.
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After resolving last winter that he could wait no longer, Bell contacted the university and asked for help determining what he lacked. A few weeks later, officials unearthed a dusty transcript written in pencil and found he needed just 13 hours to secure his degree in parks and recreation.
Bell, who turns 75 next month, took online courses that required learning not just the content of the courses (in ecology and social science) but facing the modern challenges posed by learning through the Internet.
With determination and some tutoring from computer-savvy friends and family, Bell earned his degree in December but was compelled to celebrate anew at the year-end festivities on Thursday.
“I think I’m going to come back and get my master’s,” he said happily. “I didn’t realize it would be like this.”
For a deeper look at Bell’s journey and how he came full-circle from his upbringing in Shelby, N.C., and back to Minnesota, look for more on on KansasCity.com and in Sunday’s print edition of The Star.