Jerry Smith, the Washington Redskins' fleet tight end who has caught more touchdown passes than any other man at that position, said today 1977 will be his last season of playing professional football.
"No question, absolutely, this is my last year," Smith said, "It's something I've thought about for quite sometime," Smith said.
"It's something I've thought about for quite some time," Smith said. "It's a decision based on several basic absolutes. First of all, I want to go out a winner, and my contention is that we're going to be a big winner this year.
"I also know the Redskins have three other very fine young tight ends, and they've got a great future. They deserve to be affiliated with an organization like this, and to enjoy the kind of things I've enjoyed over the years."
Smith would say something like that. He has become a leading apostle of the George Allen power of positive thinking philosophy. Often, he prefaces his remarks with, "I know this sounds kind of corny," and yet his friends on the football team say that is no put-on.
That's just the way he is," said Jean Fugett, who cost Smith his starting job last year and who will keep him on the bench again this year. "Jerry Smith is so real he's unreal."
"If you were going to sit down and write a novel about an athlete with all the attributes you think an athlete ought to have, then you would write about Jerry Smith. I mean that."
"When I first came here, I was apprehensive. My first year in Dallas, I came to a team that had two good tight ends-Mike Ditka and Billy Truax-and neither one of them went out of their way to try and help me."
"Even now, I wonder how I would react if they brought in a Dave Casper or somebody like that. I don't know if I'd say to him. 'Well, here's what Billy (Kramer) likes to do when he makes a certain call,' or, 'This is how I've always had success blocking a certain linebacker.' But that's what Jerry did for me last year."
"From the first day I met him, it's been that way. All during the preseason last year, even when there was speculation that I would be starting ahead of him, he never changed. I was the one who was feeling kind of uncomfortable, not him."
"I'm not saying he didn't fight for it, or that he couldn't do the job. Hey, he's better then most tight ends playing in this league.But he's just the kind of guy who really is genuinely interested in what happens to this football team. Like I said, the guy is unreal."
For years, safeties and linebackers around the National Football League thought so, too. Between 1966 and 1970, Smith averaged 52 receptions and eight touchdown catches a season, tying Ditka's NFL record of 12 touchdown passes in a season in 1967 when he caught 67 passes, a league record for tight ends that still stands.
He had productive seasons in 1974 and 1975 as well, but when Fugett arrives last year, Smith was limited to seven catches and a lot of bench time. "But the greatest single change I've noticed in myself is that it's so much more satisfying to win football games than it is to catch 60 or 70 passes a year," he said.
I honestly didn't look at them bringing Jean in as something negative," Smith insisted. "I didn't concede anything to him, and I know he wouldn't have wanted me to. I just viewed it as a competitive situation between the both of us that would make the position stronger.
"I had started here for 11 years, from the first season I came into the league. Yes, it's very difficult for a person who has played a lot to make the adjustment from starter to substitute. But the game has become so complex, it just doesn't take 22 people to pull off a win or a successful season.
"We all have egoes and we all have pride. You just have to realize why you're here, and hopefully you can control those emotions. You have to evaluate where you're going and where you've been.
"I know what my role is going to be. Whenever I get the opportunity I've got to come up like a pinch-hitter and deliver the key hit. That's part of the challenge for me: staying ready, and not just on Sunday.
"If the defense needs a good picture of a Walter White or any other tight end, I can help them in practice by giving them that picture. So I think very positively about the situation as it stands right now."
The Redskins have four tight ends in camp . Smith insists all can stay with the team and make a contribution, though that seems highly unlikely.
Both Fugett and Smith presently have back problems, but there is little question that barring further aggravation of their injuries, Fugett will start and Smith will back him up.
Bill Larson has all the desire in the world, and good hands, but he may not be fast enough to suit Allen. Rookie Reggie Haynes has raw talent, speed and is a decent catcher, but he will have to show more agressiveness on the special teams to make the team.
So Smith probably is going to have the chance to leave the game in style. He says he is "looking forward to the next six months as being a very enjoyable and satisfying experience. It's not like I'm marking the calendar off with little crosses every day."
And when he leaves, he will step right into a career in construction. He and his brother, Ed, are building 25 new homes a year in Howard and Montgomery counties in Maryland and in the city of Leesburg, Va.
But Smith insists he will not start worrying about the rising price of bricks or bathroom fixtures until February, when his long association with football ends. And so, too, will his 12 years of rooming with safety Brig Owens be over.
That friendship, more than the glory of catching passes, setting records and winning games probably means more to Smith than almost anything else he has accomplished as a Redskin.
"Hes (Owens) the greatest thing that ever happened to Jerry Smith," said Smith. "I feel like I'm part of his family, and his family is part of ours. Of all the good things football has done for me, one of the best is my relationship with Brig.
"It's something I really can't explain other than to tell you I've learned an awful lot from him, and I'm very proud to be his friend. The game has been very good to me in that respect. I'm a very fortunate person."
Even if it does sound "kind of corny."
Safety Jake Scott walked into the training room midway through practice complaining of a groin pull, but trainers said the injury was not serious . . . Eddie Brown was confined to his room today, still suffering from strep throat . . . Bob Brunet had the wind knocked out of him when he collided with rookie safety Mark Murphy in a seven-on-seven drill. But he was us quickly and participated in the entire practice . . . Harold McLinton put away his crutches and started walking on his sprained left foot, but it still is doubtful he will play against the Packers . . . Calvin Hill missed another workout because of a bruised right knee and Allen said he would not decide whether to play him until later in the week . . . Smith and Kevin Farrell, the rookie free-agent wide receiver, had spectacular touchdown catches during practice . . . After three preseason games, rookie free-agent Clarence Harmon is the Redskins' leading rusher with 145 yards in 25 carries, a 5.8-yard average, and Larry Jones leads receivers with eight catches. Quaterback Billy Kilmer has completed an eye-popping 81.4 per cent of his passes with 22 of 27 being caught for 219 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions