Jackie Smith Enshrinement speech

Jackie Smith Enshrinement Speech 1994

Presenter: Mark Vittert

Mr. Commissioner, The Inductees, honored guests, and all those so committed in faithful friends of Jackie that are here today from across the country and especially from St. Louis Missouri and particularly to his family to whom Jackie is so dedicated. Coming out of Northwestern Louisiana State as a champion hurdler in 1963 standing at 6 foot 4 inches tall weighing 205 pounds with the raw speed of a lean sprinter and the tenacity of a crocodile Smith brought a different type of play to the position of tight end. He changed that position from that primarily of of an additional blocker and an occasional short receiver to that of the triple threat. Jackie could block with the power of a tackle, go over the middle into the war zone for a quick release, or engage the fleet of safety into a breathtaking race more than sixty yards down the field.

He virtually created, developed and evolved the position of tight end into what we know it to be today. This was accomplished at the time in a complex chemistry of vast physical assets and a determination of unbridled fierceness. Beginning as a chance tenth round draft pick in 1963 for sixteen years, 15 with the St. Louis Cardinals, his last with the Dallas Cowboys. Jackie Smith played 210 games as if each were at the same time a battle and a Sunday afternoon frolic. He played those 210 games, every game, every minute, every play as if there were no tomorrow and he loved every minute of it. He also came to play for another reason because a man named Gabe Felder told him he could. Felder, Jackie's high school football coach, offered a young, raw boned and thoroughly decent young man a chance. A chance at sportsmanship, a chance at honor, a chance at pride, and a chance at respect. And together they made the Angels sing. Jackie grew physically, but not as much as his heart did. But Coach Felder was able to watch the finest of young men grow and grow. Jackie never in any way disappointed him. If Coach Felder were alive today, we all know that he would be giving this introduction, as well he should have.

With 210 games, 40 touchdowns, 480 receptions, 7,918 total yards, and 5 Pro Bowls Jackie Smith compiled over those 16 years an incomparable record. But the most powerful statistic was that for each pass he averaged over 16 yards. That could not have been accomplished by ability alone. Jackie is a quiet man, understated as a whisper, His performance was his powerful statement. Leadership and Jackie Smith were inseparable. As so many of his coaches and teammates such as Dierdorf, Carnie, Coleman, Vangelder, Johnson, and Graham said Jackie was a pure leader by example, by example, and by example. In a man's game Jackie Smith was a man's man about that there was no doubt. And as adversity pays its dully appointed rounds on all of us. It paid its share of visits to Jack Smith. Without exception he met his struggles and his defeats with the same tolerance and evenness as he did when he gathered his triumphs.

There are 815 miles from Kentwood Louisiana to Canton Ohio. For Jackie Smith that trip began a long time ago. When Gabe Felder believed in him and when Jackie believed in himself. If there was a Hall of Fame for simply the way you lived your life, they would both be there now. As Walter LeDay, Jackie's College coach once said, ''All I can say about Jackie Smith is he simply is the best that there ever was.'' Let us be clear today, there never has been a man who played this game who had more heart, who gave more of himself, or who more deeply touched his teammates and the fans than Jackie Smith. From the bayous in Louisiana to the steps of the hallowed halls of Canton Ohio, it has been a very long journey for Jackie Smith. To the man so many of us respect, to an abominable spirit, to the incomparable number 81 welcome Jackie Larue Smith.

Jackie Smith

Thank you very much Mark. You need to check sources there. Thank you very much. Hall of Fame members, fellow inductees, ladies and gentlemen, and all the friends who have come from so far away, from the St. Louis area and other areas. It’s really great for you to be here and I appreciate it very much that you've done that. It’s an honor for me to be standing here sharing this podium with a class of 94 and other Hall of Fame inductees over here. It's been a treat to be among them. Especially without their head gear on. I really do remember something about each one of those players over there and about each one of these guys like the one Ray Nitscke, when in a game with Green Bay where he made a ferocious hit, he actually split a player’s head gear. That was the last time I volunteered for one of those experimental head gears. That's a true story, Ray, how in the world did a boy from Kentwood Louisiana get to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Well I can tell you it’s because at critical points during my life I was pushed, supported, inspired, befriended, challenged, encouraged, directed, coached, l loved, and threatened by a collection of the most wonderful and unselfish people imaginable. All of them share in this recognition. Like my mom, Mrs. Hazel Smith down here. Who said you can love your children into anything you want? Thanks mom, for loving me this much. And my wife Geri who continues to inspire me she is in the process of kicking the extra point to win a victory over a tough opponent.

If I were as tough as she, I'd be in a training camp right now. And my fun loving, wonderful children. Daryl, Laura, Angie, Sherry, Greg and granddaughter Olivia. And in spirit, Dr. William O'Green III. My sister Denise, my brother got here. I want to thank them for being here also today. It means a lot. Plain and simple my being up here is the end result of the contributions of some extraordinary people. It was a team effort, literally a team effort. A large part of the team was made up of family members, fellow players, coaches, friends, football fans, and even those who were not fans. These individuals provided necessities such as, love, a work ethic, support, friendship, inspiration, and just plain old common sense. There were others who had the heart and longed to play yet lacked the ability. They kept me thankful for what God gave me. Making an even more indelible impression where those with life threatening and even life ending afflictions who displayed a brand of courage and toughness most of us can never comprehend. This is for them also, for they taught me humility.

The right person was always at the right place at the right time in my athletic life. At every level of play, coaches played a critical role obviously. Had I been at Kentwood High School without a Gay Felder or at Northwestern without coaches Leday Clayton and Howell, or at the Cardinals without Fran Postlett, Jim Hanifan, Harry Gilmer, or a Ken Ship, the outcome would have been different. And then of course there were the players. The most outstanding collection of men. Had it not been for them, this moment would not even remain a remote possibility and would remain a dream. Players like Bill Coleman that gave me a dose of physical reality on the practice field on a regular basis. Charlie Johnson with enough heart for any two players. There was Ken Graves, Jim Va kin, Irv Goody, Roger Worley, Larry Stallings, Larry Wilson, who is right over here an enshrinee I'm proud to say in the Hall of Fame, and Dan Dierdorf who should be here shortly. Definitely should be here shortly. And there are many more, like Terry Miller. Our relationship with each other developed out of time and team environment on the Cardinals we found ourselves in. It wasn't the best environment that it could be, but that didn't stop us from being the best we could be for each other. As you honor me here today, you honor the spirit and character of all those Cardinal players. There are some other individuals, some other experiences that were important to me and they also share this day.

Each potential inductee had to have a local media person speak on their behalf during the election process. In St, Louis that person was Jack Buck a Baseball Hall of Famer. And because of the respect he has among his peers, his speaking strongly on my behalf, which I am told that he did, had to carry a lot of weight, with those who voted. Mr. Buck, thank you very much and congratulations to you on this your 40th year as St. Louis baseball's broadcaster.

My time spent in Dallas was the most enjoyable single year I ever spent in football. Thank you, Coach Landry, and all you great players who I have always admired and respected as opponents and as your teammate I came to respect you even more. I thank all of you for that wonderful experience, even you Cliff Harris. And Mr. Tim Carney, I don't know what to say except thank you my friend, thanks a lot. And the St. Louis media. I want to thank all of you very much for the support that everyone has given me over the years. You’re the class of your profession. I am really proud to be a part of what you do. Stormy Bivlem you did what you had to do many years ago, but your influence was missed by players and fans alike. Miss Cathy Weiss, Cathy thanks for your support, for your heart and for your spirit. And Jed Wilson, Jed Wilson's inextinguishable spirit still lingers to remind me that life's great arid courageous battles are not fought on a public arena for a few hours but are fought privately for a lifetime. To the people of St. Louis and metro east. Thank you so much for your support and for being so gracious all these years. You’re the best, you really are. You will most certainly support that lucky team that will someday get there. Take advantage of that new stadium and that wonderful environment, thanks to Jerry Clinton initiating that effort in the St. Louis area.

And lastly, I want to take a moment to thank the people of Canton for this incredible event. It’s just amazing how much work went to put this together. They all worked, it was a labor of love for them and I want them to know that I for one. as I know every one of these inductees do appreciate all the effort that was put into that. It was wonderful. I'm going to try and make it Ray, going to try.

This is an overwhelming day. It’s an overwhelming honor which I accept with great pride on behalf all my team members. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a place where my great, great grandchildren can come where grandpa can forever remain young and forever catch passes. And where they can realize as I do today that dreams really do come true. Thank you very much.