With the NFL Hall of Fame(HOF) Class of 2017 being announced this weekend, I want to focus on a great player who has not received decent consideration by the voters for election to the Hall-of-Fame, Jerry Smith. He played for the Washington Redskins from 1965 to 1977, but started as a 9th round draft choice in 1965, out of Arizona State(ASU), where he played for a season with Redskin Hall-of-Famer Charley Taylor.
By 1967, the Redskins passing attack was arguably the best in NFL history with Hall-of-Famers Sonny Jurgensen at QB, Charley Taylor & Bobby Mitchell at WR’s; and Smith at Tight End. The trio of receivers finished #1, #2 & #4 in receptions. Jerry Smith, at Tight End, was an unheard of #2 in receptions and had 12 TD receptions, still a single season Redskin record. His career 60 TD’s as a Tight End was a record for 26 years, until Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe beat the record in his last season with 62 TD’s – played entirely in the post-1978 passing rule change NFL era.
There are two arguments for electing someone into the Hall of Fame the first is entirely statistical, and the second is about leadership, which can involve acting with dignity and class during a career. In both cases, Jerry Smith should be in the HOF. There is no question in my mind that Jerry Smith dying of AIDS in 1986, three years after he was eligible for the HOF, ended his consideration. This was a time of great prejudice and hatefulness towards the LGBT community and especially those suffering with the virus. Ironically it was the greatest period of success in Washington Redskins history, winning 3 Super Bowls in 10 years and having Sonny Jurgensen, Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor, Sam Huff, Ken Houston and John Riggins enter the HOF.
The first argument is statistical. In the 1960’s, the pass-catching Tight End emerged. Up until then, the Tight End did a lot of blocking and maybe caught a pass or two per game. There are 4 Tight Ends of the Era that are now in the HOF, Listed below is a comparisons of their statistical careers with Jerry Smith:
…………..Jerry Smith / Mike Ditka / Charlie Sanders/Jackie Smith/John Mackey……………
Receptions 421 427 336 480 331
Yardage 5,496 5,812 4,817 7,918 5,296
Yds per Recp. 13.1 13.6 14.3 16.5 15.8
TD’s 60 43 31 40 38
Games Played 168 158 128 210 139
Fumbles(net loss) 0(5/5) 1(9/8) 5(6/1) 10(12/2) 7(11/4)
All-Pro/ Pro-Bowl 2/1 2/5 3/7 0/5 3/5
Years in Playoffs 5 5 1 3 5
Fantasy Points 910.2 830.4 661.1 1068.5 753.3
Approx. Value 69 67 65 95 68
After analyzing these statistics(most of you either fell asleep or went wow I did not know that), it becomes clear that Jerry Smith had a career that matched the four HOF Tight Ends of that Era. Smith is 5th in only 2 cat.(YPR&Pro-Bowl appearances), 3rd or 2nd in 6 cat. and 1st in 3 cat.(TD’s, Net Fumbles, Yrs in Playoffs). Scoring TD’s, not fumbling and getting into the playoffs are the most important things in the NFL.
It is important to point out that in 1978, the NFL drastically moved the hash marks towards the middle of the field, changed the way defense could play receivers and the offense could block the pass rush, opening up the passing game we see today. So comparing him or the other Tight Ends of that Era to the post 1978 Era Statistics is ridiculous.
The second argument is about leadership. At 6’3″ 210 lbs, Jerry Smith was put at Tight End by Coach Frank Kush at ASU. Kush, a known taskmaster in the torrid heat of the desert, knew the undersized Smith could handle the blocking and be a weapon in the passing game. In his one year at Tight End, he caught 42 passes for 618 yards and 5 TD’s in 10 games. He and others on the team believed that Jerry Smith was the toughest football player they had ever seen. Smith was inducted in the ASU HOF in 1976, the 2nd year of existence. Calvin Hill called him “fearless”. Charley Taylor said that Smith “would do his Mike Ditka thing” even 20 lbs lighter than most Tight Ends.
Brig Owens,a safety, was his roommate and best friend. He played with Smith for all 12 years of his career. He knew about Jerry’s gay lifestyle, and was accepting, but said Jerry never talked about it. When Vince Lombardi took over the Redskins, he loved Jerry Smith and knew about his lifestyle, having a brother that was gay. Lombardi made it clear to the team that discrimination of any kind was unacceptable.
Oh yeah…I just remembered a third argument! Watching number 87 catch a football was like witnessing a Great blue heron swooping down to the ocean to snag a fish, inches above the water. Long and slender, with a beak like receiver hands with the strength of steel and the touch of velcro. Jerry Smith was my Great blue heron. Everytime he had a chance to touch the football it would make my heart flutter, like watching something special in nature that only certain beings could do.
When I worked at the Bethesda YMCA in High School at the front desk, Jerry Smith would come in during the off-season to workout. I would hand him a towel and stand in awe for the five seconds that he would humbly pass by me. He looked like a surfer, always with a smile and great hair. Once on his way out, as he turned in his towel, I awkwardly stuck out my hand and said, “I’m a great fan!”. He shook my hand and said meekly, “appreciate it”, and quickly moved on. In life he did the same thing, never drawing attention to himself and just doing his own thing. Now it is time to appreciate his NFL thing and honor his career, his class and dignity. Just keep him in your memory at this time of year and if you are a Redskin fan you should know about his career statistics that matter and his toughness as a player. Maybe some day the HOF voters will do the same thing and put him in the NFL Hall of Fame.