CANTON, Ohio — Those weren’t “boos” you heard echoing from Fawcett Stadium. It was the chorus of “Bruuuuce” from a crowd of 12,695 dominated by Bills fans.
Former Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell presented Bruce Smith for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and declared him “the best Buffalo Bill player ever.” That might be debatable — after all, Smith is now one of seven Bills players in the Hall, joining Billy Shaw, O.J. Simpson, Joe DeLamielleure, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and James Lofton. But Smith was the anchor of the defense that helped Buffalo reach four consecutive Super Bowls, and he retired after 19 seasons as the NFL’s all-time sack leader.
It’s hard to believe Smith almost never made it to the NFL at all.
As he explained in his induction speech, Smith wasn’t happy with the extreme heat and poor field conditions when he started playing football as a youth.
“The first day was a nightmare. The second day I quit,” Smith said. “Football was just too hot, too hard, too painful.”
But then he had to explain to his father what he had done. And that wasn’t going to fly.
“My dad said, ‘Son, whatever you do in life, don’t quit,'” Smith recalled. “From that moment, I decided to commit myself to every endeavor. It was a defining moment.”
And from there, Smith went on to record 200 NFL sacks — 171 with the Bills from 1985 to 1999 and 29 more in four seasons with the Redskins.
Thomas eloquently praised and thanked his family, friends and former teammates. He especially thanked Bills linebacker and longtime roommate Darryl Talley “for putting up with my sleep apnea.”
After lovingly referring to Thomas as “Squatty,” Smith then jokingly revealed what would have been breaking news about the incident at the start of Super Bowl XXVI, when the Hall of Fame running back misplaced his helmet and missed the opening series.
“P.S.,” Smith said to Thomas, “I hid your helmet.”
— Craig Ellenport