168 Games Played
5,496 Yards Receiving
2 Pro Bowls
Gerald "Jerry" Smith was a 9th round draft choice of the Redskins in 1965. He was the 118th player picked overall. The AFL's Kansas City Chiefs also drafted him in the 18th round, 141st overall in the AFL draft that year. Jerry went to Arizona State for college. He didn't play varsity football until his junior year. That year he caught 9 passes for 2 touchdowns. He came into his own in his senior year, when he snagged 42 catches for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is a member of the ASU All Time roster, as is Redskin Hall of Fame WR Charley Taylor.
Jerry wasn't used much by the head coach, Hall Of Famer Otto Graham, in his rookie year. He caught 19 passes for 2 touchdowns that year. Charley Taylor, then a half back, was the primary weapon (Taylor was an All Pro from '64 - '67 who was in the NFL Top 10 in rushing TD's and receptions until an injury forced him to WR. Taylor is among the league’s all time top 50 in receptions, receiving yards, yards from scrimmage, and rushing and receiving touchdowns).
Jerry was a back up WR initially, but with 2 Hall of Famers (Taylor and Bobby Mitchell) as the primary targets of the newly acquired Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen, Graham decided to move Smith to tight end. Jerry was used much like you now have seen Sterling Sharpe or Antonio Gates used. This was a trend setting move that allowed Smith to explode onto the NFL scene. In his 2nd season, Smith caught 54 balls for 686 yards and 6 TD's. In his 3rd season, Smith had his best season as a pro. He caught 67 passes for 849 yards and 12 TD's. Smith then caught 45, 54, and 43 passes the next 3 years to go with 24 TD's. Smith was hurt early in 1971 and only managed 16 catches with 1 TD. He was never quite the same again.
In the Redskins Super Bowl year of '72, Smith did catch 7 TD's on only 21 receptions. The following year he did not get into the end zone on 19 catches. Finally showing signs of health in 1974, Smith caught 44 passes for 554 yards with 3 TD's from Billy Kilmer (who never threw to the TE much). The next year Smith caught 31 balls for 391 yards and 3 TD's. Injuries besieged Smiths final 2 years, and with newly acquired Jean Fugett now starting, Smith managed 8 catches for 2 TD's.
Smith retired with a then NFL record 60 touchdown catches for tight ends. He finished 2nd All Time behind Hall Of Famer Mike Ditka for receptions and yards receiving by tight ends.
To this day, he ranks tops in Washington Redskin history for tight ends in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns. He is also tied with 3 others with 12 TD's caught in a season, and tied with 10 others with 3 TD's in one game (something he did twice). His team record 67 catches (in 14 games) for a tight end in a single season was surpassed by Chris Cooley (in 16 games) in 2005. Smith still ranks 3rd in Redskin history in TD catches, and 4th in receptions.
While Smiths statistics may pale in today's modern game, one must remember that the NFL "chuck" rule was 10 yards in his playing days. It was a much rougher game as well back then. Clotheslines were frequent, as were players diving at each others knees. If Smith had the luxury of only the 5 yard chuck rule of today, the statistics surely would have increased.
Smith may never be inducted into Canton. He died at the age of 43 in 1986 of AIDS. He never had told anyone that he was a homosexual, but was outed by former team mate and lover, running back David Kopay (the first NFL player to announce his being gay) shortly after Smith's death. Kopay has asserted the NFL's homophobia in those days was so prevalent, that once he had announced he was gay, several coaching offers were rescinded.
Not that much has changed nowadays, as Jeremy Shockey's comments on the Howard Stern show revealed, but there is a hope that the NFL Senior Committee can look past the mans lifestyle and the politics involved. Smith retired with superior stats comparatively to Hall of Fame tight ends such as John Mackey. He retired only 6 catches short of Ditkas then NFL record of receptions by a tight end in NFL history as well.
Jerry Smith may be a controversial subject to some. Even after everything that can be said for, or against him, his statistics tell a steadfast story. Smith was lauded by Sports Illustrated as a top pass catching tight end during his era.
His legend on the gridiron still shines bright today, 31 years after his retirement. Maybe some will say he is on the fringe for induction, or that I'm being biased due to the Redskins being my favorite team as well.
Maybe these things are true. Still, in my eyes, Jerry Smith belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Notable players drafted in 1965 by draft number ( * denotes Hall of Famer):
2. Ken Willard, RB, 49ERS
3. Dick Butkus, LB, Chicago *
4. Gale Sayers, RB, Chicago *
5. Craig Morton, QB, Dallas
12. Joe Namath, QB, St. Louis *
14. Mike Curtis, LB, Baltimore
45. Jim Nance, RB, Chicago
54. Johnny Roland, RB, St. Louis
89. Brig Owens, QB, Dallas
145. Jethro Pugh, DT, Dallas
203. Otis Taylor, WR, Philadelphia
245. Chris Hanburger, LB, Washington