Nephew of Former Super Bowl Hero Timmy Smith Born To Run
No, not that record. Not his stunning performance in Super Bowl XXII, when he rushed for 204 yards as his Washington Redskins flattened the Denver Broncos 42-10 on Jan. 31, 1988 in San Diego.
The record he wants to see topped is the one at his alma mater, Hobbs (N.M.) High School.
Back in 1982, before Smith had perhaps the most unexpected afternoon in NFL history and before he subsequently spent 20 months incarcerated in the Denver area for cocaine distribution, Smith rushed for 2,306 yards in a season for Hobbs.
But now there's another Smith in town. P.J. Smith, the Super Bowl star's nephew, has rushed for 1,035 yards in the first six games for the Eagles while averaging 8.7 yards per carry.
"That would be nice,'' Smith said of his nephew breaking his mark. "I think he's got that ability and got that drive. He wants to be the guy that breaks that record.''
There's one big difference between the Smiths. Tim played at 5-foot-11, 216 pounds while P.J. is just 5-8, 172. That's why P.J., despite having had three 200-yard games as a senior, is not being highly recruited.
The uncle is trying to do what he can. He'll look to put in a good word at his alma mater, Texas Tech, while dispensing whatever advice he can to his nephew.
"We're close,'' P.J. said of his relationship with his uncle, who lives in Denver as does Smith's brother and P.J.'s father, Patrick Smith. "We talk and we text each other.''
Smith, 45, has given advice about how not to make the same mistakes he did. Smith was sentenced to 2½ years in federal prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to cocaine distribution. He ended up serving 13 months at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton, Colo., and seven months in a halfway house before being released in March 2008.
"He talks to me about it,' P.J. said. "He tells me, 'Don't get in trouble, and don't do dumb stuff like I did.'''
Smith, whose brother, Christopher Smith, was sentenced to five years of probation, didn't want to talk too much about his incarceration, which stemmed from being arrested during a 2005 attempt to sell cocaine to a Denver undercover police officer. He said he's now "scot-free'' but does acknowledge having a criminal record has been a "red flag'' in getting work.
"I made a mistake and you learn from it. I did my time, and I was flawless (as a prisoner),'' said Smith, who said he was recognized as a Super Bowl hero in prison but it never was a problem. "Michael Vick, he made a mistake and he got a second chance. Plaxico Burress made a mistake. I would say to him, 'Just get through your time.'''
Now that Smith is a free man, he's returning to a normal life. He's eager to get down to Hobbs for a game this fall in hopes of seeing his nephew put up big numbers before Smith must undergo surgery Oct. 29 for spinal stenosis.
Earlier this year Smith was working at a dispatcher for buses at the Denver airport. He slipped on the ice, hurting his back and knee in addition to his neck.
Smith still can get around and is helping coach a youth football team, although he has numbness in his neck. He's anticipates a full recovery four-to-six weeks after the surgery.
Smith is getting workman's compensation, and he says he's doing fine financially. Smith, who has put on about 40 pounds since his playing days while being a bit out-of-shape due to his recent injury, can be seen tooling around Denver in a late-model Chrysler 300.
Shortly before his surgery, Smith plans to sign autographs before an Oct. 26 Redskins' Monday night home game against Philadelphia. He's already had a few autograph sessions in Washington since his release from prison, but he said fans don't ask him about his troubles.
"The fans say, 'Hey, you made my day.' You made me a lot of money that day,''' said Smith, who having lived in Denver since 1992, has heard from Broncos fans about how he didn't make their day.
Entering Jan. 31, 1988, few fans across the country had heard of Smith, a rookie who had run for 126 yards during the 1987 regular season after being a fifth-round draft pick. Smith had rushed for 138 yards off the bench in Washington's first two playoff games, but the Redskins still believed they had a surprise element on their side.
"Don Breaux, the running backs coach, told me before the (Super Bowl) that we're going to introduce George Rogers (as a starting running back), but you're going to start,'' Smith said. "He knew I would be nervous (if Smith had been told earlier he would start), and he was right. But the Broncos weren't ready for it.''
No, they weren't. Smith ended up rushing for two touchdowns, including a 58-yard second-quarter scamper that put Washington up 21-10, and averaged a mind-boggling 9.3 yards on his 22 carries.
Quarterback Doug Williams, who threw four touchdown passes, was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, but Smith received his share of accolades. He appeared on the "Today'' show and "Late Night with David Letterman,'' with the host poking fun at Smith being from the town of Hobbs, which is in southeast New Mexico near the Texas border and has a population of about 30,000.
"I still talk on the phone to (Williams),'' said Smith, who broke Marcus Allen's Super Bowl record of 191 yards set four years earlier. "I tell him I should have been the MVP, and he knows it. But a lot of people think I did win the Super Bowl MVP even though I didn't. They come up to me and say, 'Hey, you're the Super Bowl MVP.' ''
Smith's career, though, was a washout after that. Projected to be Washington's top back in 1988, he never found his groove and ran for just 470 yards while averaging a meager 3.0 yards per carry.
Smith moved on to San Diego in 1989, but never got into a game. He started one game for Dallas in 1990 before being released, and his NFL career ended with 602 rushing yards. He flirted with playing for Baltimore of the Canadian Football League in 1994 before sore knees led him to hang up his cleats for good.
"I just didn't work as hard as I should have,'' Smith said of his career going south, although he denied his work ethic suffered due to feeling too good about himself after the Super Bowl.
Smith's name still crops up when it comes to flash-in-the-pan stories. He recently was named No. 2 when the NFL Network show "Top Ten'' chronicled "One-Shot Wonders,'' which didn't bother him.
"I guess it's a positive,'' said Smith, who finished behind Greg Cook, who was dazzling as a Cincinnati rookie quarterback in 1969 before a shoulder injury ended his career. "At least I had one (big moment).''
Smith is busy chronicling that great moment and his tough years afterward. He's writing a book in which he vows to address his legal problems.
"I've got 307 pages written,'' said Smith, whose son Josh Lewis plays football as a sparingly used Northeastern State (Okla.) University sophomore. "It's going to sell like hot cakes. You're going to read the entire Timmy Smith story.''
His nephew is giving Smith some more pages to write. Smith awaits word every weekend on how many yards P.J. got in his latest game.
After P.J. was held to 36 yards on 14 carries Sept. 18, Smith wondered if he had gotten too big of a head after rushing for 659 yards in the first three games. But P.J. has rebounded with 340 yards in his past two outings.
"We're just working hard, and we're trying to get into the playoffs,'' said P.J., who denies he was feeling too good about himself after his hot early start.
While the Eagles are 2-4, they still have a decent shot at the playoffs considering they have yet to begin district play, and the great majority of New Mexico's big schools make the postseason. With four regular-season games left, P.J. probably will need a few playoff games if he is to break his uncle's record.
"He wants me to break it, and I think I can,'' P.J. said. "They say that he was quicker (than P.J.), but I think that I'm a harder runner than (his uncle was).''
P.J. wasn't born when his uncle had his big Super Bowl day, but he's heard the stories. He's heard from his father about the game-watching party in Hobbs that day, with local TV stations on hand to chronicle the family's excitement.
"It was just a joy,'' said Patrick, 13 at the time. "We had 15-to-20 people there. It was just a live, happening atmosphere.''
Hobbs actually is much more of a basketball town, with legendary coach Ralph Tasker having put the school on the map by winning 11 state titles during his 1949-98 stint. Smith said that, even though he starred in football, he sometimes got more attention being an adequate starter on Hobbs' basketball team.
But P.J. is trying to bring some excitement to the football program. He rushed for 221 and 243 yards in his first two games, although each effort was still well shy of his uncle's single-game rushing record of 312.
"He's played really well,'' Hobbs coach Bruce Dollar said. "Once he gets into the open field, he's pretty hard to bring down. ... It's hard to know what colleges are looking for if you're not 6-2, 220. He's going to have to gain some weight. But he'll play somewhere (in college). He's good enough.''
To get into college, P.J. is said to need to do some work on his grades. His uncle spends plenty of time telling P.J. he must hit the books.
On Friday nights, though, P.J. is a hit on the field. And, with each yard he gets, his uncle gets more hopeful his record might fall.
As for that Super Bowl record, that's another story. Nobody has come within 40 yards of Smith's total the past 21 years.
That's the way Smith likes it.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse.