Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson, 4 Others Elected to NFL Hall of Fame

I was very pleased to see that former Bills great defensive end Bruce Smith, and Bills owner Ralph Wilson (the only one the team has ever had), were elected to Canton yesterday.  Smith had 200 sacks in his stellar NFL career and was a mainstay on the terrific Bills teams from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s.  If only the Bills had Ted Washington to play alongside him several years earlier.  I remember going to the Bills-Browns scrimmage before the 1985 season, a fairly informal affair in which the teams wouldn’t play as much as practice together. Smith knocked Browns QB Gary Danielson down twice for sacks–with one arm, each time.  I turned to my friend and said, “Thank goodness we didn’t draft Doug Flutie.  Smith is going to be great.” Of course, the Bills ended up with Flutie 13 years later. Smith was also heavier then.  He became a gym rat, cutting 25 pounds to augment his speed.  He was tenacious, got loads of help playing the run from excellent and underrated LB Darryl Talley, and was always a chore for opposing tackles. He was without question one of the two best DEs in my lifetime with Reggie White, and easily one of the very best of all time.

Wilson was an owner who bank-rolled the Raiders in their early days, helping sustain what became one of the cornerstone franchises of the AFL and, later, the NFL.  Wilson presided over one of the great and oft-overlooked football teams, the 1964-1965 AFL champion Bills teams, which were loaded with talent especially on defense–Tom Sestak, Ron “The Dancing Bear” McDole, Tom Day, and Jim Dunaway on the line, Mike Stratton (whose ‘Hit Heard ‘Round the World” put Chargers RB Keith Lincoln out of the 1964 AFL championship game) and Harry Jacobs at linebacker, Butch Byrd, Booker Edgerson, George Saimes in the secondary, and P/LB Paul McGuire–with an offense sporting the big, talented RB Cookie Gilchrist (for ’64), WRs Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion and Glenn Bass, TE Ernie Warlick, and Jack Kemp and Darryl Lamonica batting for the QB job.  Lamonica was without question the superior passer but was young, and Kemp was the better leader. The Bills hit the skids through the early 1970s until now-disgraced OJ Simpson matured into a great running back behind the “Electric Company” offensive line.  Wilson was also a notorious tightwad with his own team through the mid-1980s and it showed, with the Bills letting go of good players and refusing to sign others rather than pay them well, leading to consecutive 2-14 seasons in 1984 and 1985.  GM Bill Polian helped convince Wilson to spend the cash to sign Jim Kelly.  Polian also drafted very well and made great moves, such as plucking special-teams standout Steve Tasker off the waiver wire, and helped build the Bills into a great team by 1990.  Wilson has held true to his word that, as long as he owns the Bills, they’ll stay in Buffalo.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Smith was often self-centered, Wilson often miserly.  Yet both changed the game, and both deserve enshrinement in Canton.

Joining them are long-time standout guard Randall McDaniel, stellar CB Rod Woodson, WR Bob Hayes, and the late, great pash-rushing LB Derrick Thomas.  That’s one great class for Canton.  May former Bills WR Andre Reed of mighty Kutztown St. (Pennsylvania) make it soon.  He deserves it.  He and Sterling Sharpe were two of the early big, strong wide receivers, for a good decade a slot receiver matched up with but also pounded by linebackers.  He had great hands, terrific and underrated speed, and toughness to spare.  I saw almost all his games, many of them in person, and he was tremendous, always a match-up problem for the opposition.  I saw him score two incredible touchdowns against Houston in a wild, 47-41 OT shootout win, one for 78 yards and the other for 28 to win it in overtime.  Both were five-yard routes that Reed turned into TDs, barely touched on either as he outran the Oilers’ defense with speed and deft moves.  He is still ranked 5th all-time in catches with 951, and 9th in receiving yards with 13,198.  Reed is a Hall of Famer, period.

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 12:58 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Are you going to read that Torre book as part of your proposed book club?

  2. I might, Joe. You’re the first to have mentioned anything about the book group, so I’m glad someone is interested in discussing baseball books.

  3. on the NFL Hall of Famers, I agree with Jason. They are all excellent and worthy candidates although Bob Hayes was a few years too long to get their in my mind. And such a tragic loss of Derrick Thomas but his family must be very happy. The Buffalo tandem is excellent and worthy. They had some excellent teams for many years.

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