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Remembering with Bobby

Professional football in the 1960’s meant putting your hand in the dirt and seeing who was better.  Very few of us, if any, grow up to be who we wanted to be when young.  This fellow did.  He played with and against players with names that will ring out as gridiron gods and will stand the test of time.  They called it the “Golden Era” of professional football.  These early days of pro football were not filled with 70-yard pass plays.  The game was like an atomic ground war.  There were no winners, only survivors.  It was 22 guys with clinched fists separated by less than ten yards of blood-stained dirt.  There were no injury timeouts unless you had already used up all your timeouts.  It was a time all about moving the chains.  Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” You be the judge.  Robert Lee “Bobby” Smith was born on May 18, 1942, in Corpus Christi, Texas.  His was a family full of love and compassion, along with a healthy dose of church.  Bobby is married with four kids who all have their college degrees.You’ll never forget the first time you meet him.  His presence can fill up the room.  At 73 years of age, his voice is soft and educated; he spoke to me like a father talks to his son.  I’ll remind you that it was guys like Bobby Smith that sold this game of pro football to the American public.  In the beginning, everybody is just a kid from somewhere, but this guy ran with the football like little boys do in their wildest dreams.  Some folks say he was so fast he could outrun raindrops.  Bobby had all the physical riches:  speed, power, vision, energy and size.  The only thing that could stop him was perhaps being kidnapped.  Retired now, he seems content until you start talking football.  You can feel his pulse quicken as the memories come flooding back.Bobby attended Roy Miller High School from 1957-1959.  Besides starring for the football team and running the 100 and 220-yard dash, he was voted class favorite his senior year.  The Bucs football team was pretty good and made it all the way to the state semi-finals where Miller played Pasadena.  That made Smith the first African-American to play in Rice Stadium. “When I ran with the track team, there were some towns like Laredo that would not let blacks stay in the hotel with the team.  They spread out blankets on the floor in a local gym for us to sleep on,” said Bobby.  In 1991, he was inducted into the Miller Athletic Hall of Fame.During his senior year, he received 81 offers to play college football.   Unfortunately, segregation only allowed three colleges in Texas to accept black players. They were:  Texas A&I Kingsville, West Texas State and North Texas State.  “I received a letter from Darrell Royal from the University of Texas,” said Bobby.  “Royal told me he would love to have me, but the school was not ready to integrate at that time.”  Bobby came very close to signing with the University of Michigan, but wanted badly to stay in Texas.  He chose North Texas State.  “I never regretted my choice,” said Bobby.  From 1961-1963, Smith was responsible for over 1,500 yards of offense and scored 17 touchdowns for the North Texas State Eagles.Bobby Smith was picked 6 in the 11 round of the 1964 AFL draft, by the Buffalo Bills.  He received jersey #20 and promptly averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie season, while scoring four touchdowns (once each against the Jets and Chiefs and twice against the Oilers).  Smith rushed 62 times and gained 306 yards.  He caught six passes for 72 yards, while helping the Bills achieve a 12-2 win-loss record in 14 games.  Along with stars like Jack Kemp, Daryle Lamonica, and “Cookie” Gilchrist, the Bills beat the San Diego Chargers 20-7 on December 26, 1964, for the AFL Championship. In 1965, the Bills finished first again in the AFL East with a 10-3-1 record.  Again, Buffalo beat the Chargers 23-0 on December 26, 1965, to win their second consecutive AFL Championship.  “We wanted to play the Green Bay Packers so bad,” said Bobby.  Smith was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 1966 season.  He played a limited role in eight games for Coach Bill Austin.  Their record was 5-8-1.  Bobby wore #37 and rushed for 93 yards but did not score.  The NFL expansion draft in 1967 allowed the newly-formed New Orleans Saints to draft players from other teams.  Bobby Smith was chosen from the Steelers.  Smith was injured in a pre-season game against the San Diego Chargers.  A shoulder injury that involved his clavicle being separated from his sternum ended his career.  Smith’s career totals are as follows.  He rushed 129 times and gained 536 yards, while scoring five touchdowns.  He averaged 4.2 yards per carry.  He also caught 21 passes for 214 yards and won two AFL Championship rings.   In 1992, Bobby Smith joined his friend, “Mean Joe” Greene, in the North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame.  They are still very close.  Their wives were college roommates.  In 1961, Eagles’ running back, Bobby Smith, led the team in points scored and total offense.  For Bobby Smith, scoring a touchdown wasn’t about winning a game.  It was much more than that.  It was about hope.  What he and others like him went through helped shape our times.  At the end of my interview, behind those big bright eyes and a smile that lights up the room, my new friend said to me, “I have something they can never take away.  I was the first black man selected to the Texas High School All-State Football Team, in Division 4A.”  We are what we remember. Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or [email protected]

1 Comment to Remembering with Bobby:

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Football Lover on Thursday, December 31, 2015 11:44 AM
he is a great pro footballer. this guy ran with the football like little boys do in their wildest dreams. like him much.
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