Entertainer delights 20,000 in Waco

Updated: September 5, 2003, 12:52 AM ET
Associated Press

WACO, Texas -- Comedian Bill Cosby was greeted by Baylor's marching band and a crowd estimated at 20,000 people Thursday night at a "pep rally" designed to boost morale at a university shaken by heartache and scandal.

Cosby gave the free performance at Floyd Casey Stadium, home of the university's football team.

"Tonight, it's about you," Cosby told the crowd, which filled the west side of the stadium facing the stage.

"It's about the fact that you were left out of all this. It's about how tragedy came, but nobody really remembered that you were coming and you were a part of this, as well."

Cosby, sporting a yellow "Baylor Track & Field" T-shirt, said he wanted to "build up" the students after the death of basketball player Patrick Dennehy.

Since Dennehy's death and the arrest of former teammate Carlton Dotson on murder charges, revelations of secretly paid players, failed drug tests and a tape-recorded plot by former coach Dave Bliss to cover up wrongdoing have shaken the world's largest Baptist university.

"We're going to have fun," Cosby promised, drawing huge applause.

He didn't disappoint, keeping the audience laughing throughout a 90-minute comedy routine that made light of his "C average" daughter's college experience. He told of calling a college president in an attempt to gain his daughter's admission.

"Mr. President, I was just wondering if your college needed a hospital?" Cosby said he asked. "He said, 'How low is the SAT score?' I said, 'Oh, it's in the high 840s.' He said, 'We're going to need housing for the doctors.'"

But Cosby brought a serious message, too, urging students to rise above average grades and not to disappoint their parents.

"You've got to love yourself, and you've got to have the strength within yourself," he said.

Before Cosby spoke, Baylor President Robert Sloan presented him with an honorary doctorate of human letters, while noting that he was already "Dr. Cosby" by virtue of his earned doctorate in education.

"He is really the icon of American comedy," Sloan said.

The rally was part inspirational, part promotional.

A half-hour video played on the big screen before Cosby arrived, recalling friends' memories of Dennehy but also touting new basketball coach Scott Drew and Sloan's controversial 10-year plan for making Baylor a top-tier university while strengthening its Christian mission.

Instructing the marching band before it played Baylor's fight song, Cosby reminded them the rally was not about a sports team but about the students -- and the faculty.

"These are people who are here to teach -- and give everyone an 'A!'" Cosby said of the faculty members.

From his favorite jazz station to the television sports report, Cosby said news of the Baylor case kept coming at him. He said he felt compassion for Baylor students dealing with the constant flood and called Sloan to offer to host the rally.

"It had to do with the fact that I'm 66 years old and I have a love for each and every one of you," he told students.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press