Smith shed weight to become NFL's sacks leader
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y.(AP) — Bruce Smith looked in the mirror and saw too
much Bruce Smith staring back.
Bloated and weighing more than 300 pounds, Smith had just
finished his rookie NFL season in 1985. He was still able to
manhandle hulking offensive linemen 50 or more pounds heavier
than him, but he didn’t look like the dominant college player
the Buffalo Bills had drafted No. 1 overall.
This wouldn’t do. The pro career Smith envisioned wasn’t going
to be derailed by a diet of Doritos.
“I wouldn’t say there was fear. I would say there was an extreme
amount of pressure,” Smith said, recalling a key turning point.
“When I ballooned up to 310 pounds, I quickly realized I wasn’t
going to become the player that I wanted to be.”
Everyone knows what followed: Smith dropped the chips – and 35
Trimming his 6-foot-4 frame to a lean 275, Smith went on to
become the NFL’s sacks leader over a 19-year career that will be
honored this weekend, when he is formally inducted into the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I made some adjustments,” said Smith. “That’s when I got it,
and when you get it, that’s when special things happen.”
Smith’s 200 sacks are two more than the record previously held
by Reggie White, though White reached that number in four fewer
seasons. Smith was a two-time NFL defensive player of the year
and an 11-time Pro Bowl selection. He ranks first in notching 10
or more sacks in 13 seasons, and proved astoundingly durable for
a player at his demanding position. His 279 games played in 15
seasons with Buffalo and the final four with Washington rank
13th among NFL players.
“I’ve said this before so I might as well say it again, I think
he’s the greatest defensive end who’s ever played the game,”
said Marv Levy, Smith’s former Bills coach and a fellow Hall of
Smith was the centerpiece of an aggressive and speedy Bills
defense, and part of a star-laden team that also featured future
Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. Together, they
ushered in the franchise’s golden era in the early 1990s, when
the Bills made an unmatched four straight Super Bowl
appearances, though they lost all four.
Once he got his weight under control, Smith was nearly
unstoppable, even when opponents devised plans to contain him.
With an athletic build at his height, Smith had a rare
combination of being quick, agile, powerful and instinctive.
Levy recalled watching game film with former general manager
Bill Polian, now with Indianapolis.
“Bruce would do something that would just be amazing, but it
would look so right,” Levy said. “Bill used to say to me, `Why
doesn’t everybody do it that way?’ He made it look easy, but it
Former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley got an even closer
perspective, particularly remembering the time Smith picked up
former Indianapolis tackle Chris Hinton and slammed him to the
“I had a catbird’s seat and saw an individual do things a lot of
people couldn’t imagine,” Talley said. “Let’s put it this way,
when you see a guy grab an All-Pro tackle that’s 320 pounds and
launch him 5 yards, what would you think?”
Talley did more than watch. Aside from motivating Smith to get
in shape, Talley helped his teammate learn how to study film and
how to attack weaknesses in opponents. The two developed such a
chemistry that they would play off each other on the field.
Smith hasn’t forgotten Talley’s influence, calling him “the
greatest teammate a person could ever have. I love him to
Smith now heads a real estate development company, Bruce Smith
Enterprises, based in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va. The
one shadow on his induction is Smith recently being convicted of
drunken driving and speeding, a decision he is appealing.
Smith’s best statistical season came in 1990, when he was
credited with 101 tackles, 19 sacks and four forced fumbles.
That’s when he earned his first NFL defensive player of the year
honor. Smith won the award again in 1996, when he had 120
tackles, 13 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles.
What’s most impressive is that Smith registered many of his 171
sacks in Buffalo while playing in a 3-4 defense, which should
have made it easier for opponents to stop him. It’s a feat Smith
is quick to point out.
“When you’re able to accomplish that in a 3-4 defense, you have
to sit back, shake your head and say, `That’s pretty darn
impressive,”’ Smith said. “It’s incredible, to be quite honest
Smith has always been known for having a healthy ego, never
afraid to draw attention to his accomplishments.
“He’s the best and he’ll tell you he’s the best and mean it,”
But Talley noted that Smith backed up his words on the field and
that’s why he is entering the Hall of Fame in his first year of
“It’s almost like watching your brother go up there and
receiving a huge reward,” Talley said. “And there is no greater
award than what he’s getting.”
And to think that the Bills once debated over whether to select
Smith with the No. 1 pick. The other candidate was Texas A&M
defensive end Ray Childress, who was drafted No. 3 by Houston
and enjoyed a solid – but not a Hall-of-Fame – career.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who will be inducted into the Hall
alongside Smith, ended that debate shortly after watching Smith
play for Virginia Tech in a televised game in the fall of 1984.
All it took was for Wilson to see Smith run across the width of
the field to register a sack.
“I said, `Gee, this guy’s a real good player,”’ Wilson said.
“Someone said, `But there’s a guy named Childress who’s better.’
I said, `Take Bruce.’ I didn’t know anything about Childress.
But I knew this guy was a good player.”
Among the very best, it turned out.