Everything from his two-hand whiplash of Boomer Esiason into the turf as an overweight youngster to his record-breaking sack as a Washington Redskin was relived last weekend in Canton, Ohio. Bruce Smith's place in immortality is secured. Through 19 NFL seasons, Smith's resume never stopped growing. Week after week, year after year, Bruce Smith grew into one of the greatest defensive ends to ever play the game.
And when it was all over, he was the NFL's all-time leader in sacks in 2004. Two-hundred takedowns.
Many say that Smith's on-field fury was the exact opposite of his gentle-giant demeanor off the field. This past weekend saw Smith's induction into Pro Football's Hall of Fame, maybe one of the most prestigious of any sport. Any off-field incidents Smith has had in the years separating retirement and induction will be pushed to the back of football fan's memories. His legacy remains untainted because of what he gave to the game — and the fans.
Smith has never been shy about quietly declaring himself greatest pass rusher ever. But his words are certainly justified. Smith changed the game.
In 1985, Smith was taken with the first overall pick in the draft by the Buffalo Bills after totaling 71 tackles for loss and 46 sacks at Virginia, both school records that stand today. Smith came to Buffalo in the 300-pound range. Overweight, destined for bustville. But over the next 19 seasons, opposing offenses planned, plotted and prayed that Smith would be stopped at the line. But Bruce Smith was too good, arguably becoming the best non-QB ever taken No. 1 overall.
Smith started going to the Pro Bowl on an annual basis in 1987. With the Bills and Redskins, he amassed an incredible 200 sacks,. His accolades include 11 Pro Bowls, two defensive player-of-the-year awards, and eight first-team All-Pro awards. He is a member of the NFL's 1980's and 1990's all-decade teams.
To put it simply, Bruce Smith dominated. It didn't matter when offenses shifted their line over and double or triple-teamed him or assigned a tackle and a fullback to him. He always found a way to get to the quarterback. He had double-digit sacks in 13 of his 19 seasons. A career-high 19 in 1990 tells everyone that he was a one-man wrecking ball that struck fear into opposing players, coaches, and fans everywhere.
During the Bills' playoff runs of the early-90's, Smith was the linchpin of a loaded defense.
Surrounded by playmakers such as Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley and Phil Hansen, the Bills became possibly the most intimidating defense of the early 90s. Smith would stay a Bill until the end of the century when he signed with the Washington Redskins. After three seasons, the ‘Skins released him to save cap space and he retired, ending one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
With induction into the Hall, Smith's career has come full circle. From the wide-eyed college recruit first stepping onto the practice field of Virginia Tech to the man standing at the podium in Canton, his legacy is enshrined and never to be forgotten.
Bruce Smith changed the way the game is played. His presence, coupled with that of Lawrence Taylor, greatly added to the importance of the left tackle in the NFL. Quarterbacks needed top protection on the blind side with Smith breathing down. Multiple former coaches said that much over last weekend's festivities. In setting a record, he has set a bar that will be unreachable until the next prodigious defensive end comes around.
In an era of professional athletes being professional whiners, divas and criminals, Bruce Smith's legacy of hard work and unconditional love for the game of football is something we can only hope future players will strive for. Last weekend in Canton, Smith capped his illustrious career with class.
Spencer Timkey is an analyst for BuffaloFootballReport.com and had worked at WGR550 Radio this summer. Contact him at TIMKEYSM@sbu.edu.
To watch Smith's speech at Canton click here.
For highlights of Smith bang it here. You're hard-pressed to find a better player that fits into those jazzy NFL Films licks.