As part of his journey to become a member of the Pride of the Jaguars, Jimmy Smith has seen a little bit of everything. From a draft bust to the rejected pile of NFL wide receivers, Smith rose to become one of the elite players in the game, only to fall from grace again as a jailed drug addict, now and forever recovering.
“Well, that journey has been tough and it’s not over yet,” Smith said on the day he was inducted into the Pride. “A friend was talking to me and he mentioned that I’m an all-pro at getting back up and that’s the message that I want to spread throughout – to every kid, every Jacksonville fan, every adult, everyone. Be an all-pro at getting back up, because you’re going to get knocked down.”
While among the elite in his career, including five Pro Bowl appearances, does Smith deserve a place in the Hall of Fame among the all-time greats?
A look at his statistics has him 21st in receiving yards, 46th in touchdowns and 24th in receptions. Smith finished his career with 862 catches for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns in 11 seasons.
Impressive, and the dominant receiver statistically in the middle of his career, but the Hall hasn’t been kind to receivers in the modern era. Fellow selector Vito Stellino has pointed out repeatedly that since the 1978 rule change allowing receivers to run free, numbers have been inflated year after year. So it’s not the numbers that impress the selectors (a committee I’ve been on since 1994) but rather the impact they had in their era.
It doesn’t help Jimmy that he played in Jacksonville. The exposure that major market teams get week after week plus the Jaguars lack of an appearance in the Super Bowl are hard obstacles to overcome. The playoff run in 1996 and the dominance in the regular season in 1999 gave Smith a recognizable name in the league but the lack of exposure to the major media markets puts him a half step behind players from just about anywhere else.
As part of the process, the Hall sends selectors a list of the 100 or so eligible players, coaches and contributors and we’re asked to pare that number down to twenty-five. Those who make that cut are called “semi-finalists.” In six years of eligibility, Jimmy has never made it as a semi-finalist. (Tony Boselli has made it the last two years.) From there we’re asked to cut the list to 15, and those 15 are discussed as finalists the day before the Super Bowl. Only 5 can be selected along with contributor and senior candidates. (As a footnote, about 90% of the players who become finalists are eventually inducted into the Hall.)
So it’s a tough road for anybody to get into the Hall. There’s also a pretty big backlog of receivers waiting for Hall induction. And it’s no guarantee that any will get in. Tim Brown, Chris Carter and Andre Reed sat on the ballot for years without induction. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth cancelled each other out year after year. Terrell Owens has monster numbers but is a controversial candidate. Randy Moss and others have moved to the top of the statistical list but haven’t even been discussed as finalists.
“It’ll be tough,” I told Jimmy and his long time friend and teammate Keenan McCardell when they asked me about his chances for the Hall. “A spot in the Pride of the Jaguars is a great honor and brings you that sense of immortality.”
After an emotional induction ceremony at halftime of the Jaguars game against Minnesota, Smith said getting into the Pride is a big deal to him.
“Mainly because this city, the owner Shad Khan, these fans, my teammates all recognize what I’ve done in my career. I think it starts here, before we go to the Hall of Fame. So that’s why this is even more important than a Hall of Fame nomination or anything like that.”