There’s never been a question about Jimmy Smith’s on-field greatness. Smith is one of just three players to play more than ten seasons for the Jaguars, from 1995-2005, and still owns 11 team records 10 years after his retirement in 2006.
But how to you honor a player during his much-publicized struggle with drug addition and run-in’s with the law? Jimmy’s battles with drug abuse were well chronicled on ESPN’s “30 for 30” series among other places. He’s served jail time, has been confined to his house and convicted on drug and parole violation charges. He’s still on parole in Mississippi until March of next year.
Even his retirement in 2006 was surrounded by controversy. In a hastily called press conference, Smith said he was “tired” and it “was time” for him to retire. He denied that he might have been facing a year’s suspension for failing another drug test at the time. But walking away from a several million dollars didn’t make any sense for Smith at that point in his career. Even how the announcement was handled for one of the all-time, on-field greats didn’t seem right. Smith denial was unconvincing and tepid at best.
As fans and friends have hoped, Smith has stayed out of trouble for a few years, long enough for the Jaguars to honor him this December as a member of The Pride.
“There is no question that Jimmy Smith was one of the best players to ever wear a Jaguars uniform,” Jaguars Owner Shard Khan said. “His contributions in the early years were critical to the success the Jaguars enjoyed during that time. The fact that most of his records have stood for 10 years without being surpassed underscores what a great player he was.”
Serving on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, I’m instructed every year to only consider a player’s football accomplishments, disregarding any issues he might have outside of the game. That’s why Lawrence Taylor was elected to the Hall during a time he was consistently running afoul of the law.
But The Pride of the Jaguars is different. If only by the definition of the word “Pride.” In this case it has double meaning, denoting a collection of individuals and a spirit of those involved. It would have been tough to induct Jimmy during his troubled times.
A five-time Pro Bowl performer, Smith was a key to the Jaguars’ early success when the team earned four straight playoff appearances from 1996-99 and played in eight postseason games including two AFC Championship games. He was the Jaguars’ leading receiver seven times and was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl team five consecutive years from 1997-2001.
“We had such great fun and I have wonderful memories of my time there,” Jimmy said. I want to experience it once again with my teammates and the great Jaguars fans. This is a great honor.”
Smith joined the Jaguars as a free agent in 1995, and over the next 11 seasons he produced marks for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that still stand today. His 171 games played and 150 games started both rank second in team history, and his 11 seasons played is tied for second all-time.
Part of Jimmy’s success was the team around him. Fellow Pride members Mark Brunell, Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor helped anchor a very potent offense during Smith’s career.
Which also begs the question “What about Keenan?” No matter where McCardell ranks statistically in Jaguars receiving history, he was a force opposite Jimmy that put pressure on defenses and gave Smith room to roam. They were even promoted together as “Thunder and Lightning” during their playing days.
Maybe they’re spacing it out, but if Jimmy’s going in, Keenan should be there with him.
Or at least next.