A Mythical Line In The Sands Of Time

JW NixSenior Writer IIMarch 23, 2009

DETROIT - 2008:  Corey Smith of the Detroit Lions poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions have decided to retire Corey Smith's football jersey. While it may seem like a nice tribute to some, it is a touchy subject that brings up a question of where to draw the line. Or if one should ever be drawn, as it seems it has been for others.

Smith had played three seasons with Detroit, after previously playing four years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers. Smith started in three of the 33 games he suited up for the Lions, and had played in 59 games overall in his career. He was able to contribute 7.5 sacks for Detroit, and even intercepted the only pass of his career last year.

Jerome Brown and Sean Taylor were All Pro players not even in their primes when they died. The Eagles retired Brown's jersey, and it is doubtful you will see a Redskin wear Taylor's jersey in our lifetimes.

Yet, those deaths are not the same as Chuck Hughes or Korey Stringer. These two men happened to pass away while playing football. One can see why their respective teams would honor them the way they have by retiring their jerseys.

Hughes was a little used reserve Wide Receiver for the Lions who died late in a game against the Bears in 1971. He has never been officially declared dead on the gridiron, but most players in that game believe Hughes died of a massive heart attack on the field that day.

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Chuck still holds the NCAA record for the most yards per reception for a single game, 34.9, while playing at Texas - El Paso. He was a fourth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967. After playing 22 games in three years in Philadelphia, he ended up with Detroit in 1970. He played 16 games for the Lions up until his death.

Stringer had his jersey retired by the Minnesota Vikings after dying on a practice field because of a stroke in 2001. He was a talented Offensive Tackle who had just made his first All Pro Team, after 6 NFL seasons, in 2000. His death has changed several ways many teams train their players in practice now.

Then you can point out many guys whose may not have lost their lives, but their careers were ended by crippling injury. Mike Utley became a paraplegic after being paralyzed in a game in 1991 while playing Right Guard for the Lions. Utley, the MVP of the 1988 Aloha Bowl in 1988 for Washington State University, was an oft-injured starter for Detroit in his three year career. Is he less deserving of his jersey being retired because he did not die?

If it takes a death for a players jersey to be retired, then why haven't the Lions retired the jerseys of Eric Andolsek, Toby Caston, or even Johnathan Goddard? Are they less worthy? Andolsek and Caston were valuable members of the Detroit Lions too. Andolsek happened to die two days before Jerome Brown.

Andolsek was killed when a truck ran off a road and struck him as he worked in the front yard of his home in the 1992 off season. He played with the Lions for four seasons, and started from his second year on at Left Guard. His last game was in the NFC Championship game, and he was a valuable member of an excellent offensive line that opened holes for Barry Sanders.

Caston played seven years in the NFL, and his last five with Detroit. He started in 4 of the 68 games he suited up for the Lions at Linebacker, and was a important member of their special teams unit. He died during a road accident in 1994.

Both Caston and Andolsek happened to play college football at LSU, as did Offensive Tackle Ralph Norwood. Norwood was the Atlanta Falcons second round draft choice in 1989, and died in a car accident after the eleventh game of his rookie season. Coincidentally, Norwood's Falcon team mate, Tight End Brad Beckman, would die later that same year in a car accident.

Goddard was the Lions sixth round drat pick by the Lions in 2005. He was a hybrid DE/ LB, and was cut by the Lions before the season started. The Indianapolis Colts quickly signed him to their practice squad. He made the active roster for one game that year, then got injured during the following preseason as the Colts would go on and win Super Bowl XLI. After being released by the Colts in 2007, he played a few games in Arena Football with the Colorado Crush. Goddard then died after a motorcycle accident in 2008.

I could go on with countless other examples of football players who lost their lives off the field, like Corey Smith did. You could even expand it to players who died after their careers were over. It all seems relative in some way. Is one death worse than the next? Does the media attention given make a death more important than another?

Immortalizing Corey Smith is an honorable act. The man passed away with two of his friends, who hopefully will be honored at the impending ceremony as well. My only questions for the Ford family, and all people involved in sports as an owner, player, or spectator, is simple.

Why have men like Andolsek, and others, not been given this same monument of remembrance by retiring their jerseys too? How does one determine worthiness? How does one draw a line? Where is this line, if it does exist?

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