Washington Redskins

1970 Jerry Smith
(game worn)

When football talk turns to players who are considered to be underrated, underappreciated, or who have not yet received their due praise and rewards and no doubt never will, former Washington Redskins receiver Gerald Thomas Smith is at the top of most lists. This author and the staff of HELMET HUT which boasts a significant representation of Redskins supporters have noted that many Pro Football Hall Of Fame voters do not have the appropriate perspective or memory of the game prior to perhaps 1980. Their votes are ruled by statistics, yet Jerry Smith’s thirteen seasons as the Redskins tight end resulted in 421 receptions for 5496 yards and sixty touchdowns, significant statistics in any era and the latter mark the NFL record for tight ends at the time of his retirement after the 1977 season, and a mark that stood as the NFL record for twenty-seven years! Smith has been largely ignored by the Hall while many knowledgeable football experts clamor for his inclusion, and his accomplishments certainly outstripped what appeared to be physical limitations when his athletic journey began.

 A product of the extensive sports program at California’s San Lorenzo High School that was first put onto the football map by Head Coach John Ralston, the future collegiate and Denver Broncos head coach who won the 1955 High School State Championship, Smith had the privilege of being coached by Pete Riehlman and Jerry Dore, two historic figures in small college and high school coaching. The athletic, competitive, but late to physically develop Smith was an outstanding wrestler and baseball player but was still mired on the junior varsity squad of the San Lorenzo Rebels as a junior. He did however blossom as a football player his senior season and attended Eastern Arizona Junior College before transferring into Frank Kush’s Arizona State football factory for the 1963 season. Despite the presence of a tremendous pool of talented players that Kush seemed to be expert at recruiting

[see HELMET HUT College Section   http://www.helmethut.com/College/Arizona/AZXASU6172.html] the ASU pre-season report noted “With the loss of starting ends Roger Locke and Dale Keller, the flanks appeared weak, but the Spring produced pleasant surprises….J.C. transfer Jerry Smith, and soph Brian Tyler are contenders.” He left the Sun Devil campus after the 1965 season as an All American credited with a hefty-for-the-era forty-two receptions, and a two-year 14.6 yards per reception average. Despite the accolades, as the ninth round draft choice of the Washington Redskins and eighteenth rounder by the AFL Kansas City Chiefs, it was predicted that he would have a difficult time making either team. One scout noted that “The trouble with Jerry Smith is that he’s not quite big enough to be a tight end and not quite fast enough to be a wide end. He has great hands and a wonderful attitude, but he’s the kind you just can’t keep.” The Redskins were quite thrilled that after signing him, they did in fact keep him!

After Redskins famed attorney and new owner Edward Bennett Williams stepped in to literally negotiate team harmony during the team’s lackluster start to the 1965 season, it was obvious that head coach Bill McPeak would be fired at the end of the season. He was replaced by NFL legendary

quarterback Otto Graham who altered the careers of both Smith and halfback Charley Taylor. Taylor, the NFL Rookie Of The Year as a running back in 1964, was moved to wide receiver and Smith, who was limited to but nineteen receptions in his rookie season of ’65 as a wide receiver, was placed at tight end. Neither was pleased and experts believed that the lanky 6’3” Smith who had filled out to only a listed weight of 208 pounds but was recalled by most of his Redskins teammates as weighing in for the staff with 2-1/2 pound plates routinely hidden under each arm, could not handle the blocking assignments required of tight ends in the run-heavy era of the NFL. Jerry however proved everyone wrong, ferocious at the point of attack, productive with fifty-four receptions, and considered to be the ultimate teammate. Both his receiving and blocking continued to dazzle and he was a First Team All Pro in 1969 and named to the Pro Bowl in both 1967 and ’69 during a time when professional football boasted perhaps its greatest collection of tight ends, a group that included John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Jackie Smith, and Charlie Sanders.

Smith was among the most popular of Redskins, with both fans and teammates due to his willingness to work hard and a pleasant personality. In 1971 he volunteered to be part of the United Service Organization (USO) Tour visiting injured troops in Vietnam with a number of other professional football players, a visit which was much appreciated by the military personnel. Smith and former University of Cincinnati defensive back Brig Owens, another high caliber Redskins player who came to the team in ’66, the year after Smith and who also remained through the ’77 season, were roommates in training camp and on road trips. In an era where it was uncommon if not ever seen, they were perhaps the first African-American and Caucasian pair in the league. Owens remains Smith’s biggest booster regarding his Hall Of Fame snub, and notes his roommate’s competitiveness by stating that “We got into a fight once a week in practice,” and his desire to remain low key. “He didn’t brag about how good he was and the catches he made,” Owens said. “He would always talk about doing his job, what he was supposed to do.” The latter trait no doubt has kept him off the radar for Hall Of Fame consideration. A dedicated team player, Smith knew that George Allen, who was brought in as coach for the 1971 season, would reduce his receiving role and utilize him primarily as a blocker. Needless to state, he was fully dedicated to that role, although his standout statistic that revealed seven touchdown catches in a season of only twenty-one pass receptions had teammates calling him “Home Run” Smith. After his 1977 retirement from professional football, Smith was involved with a number of businesses, including his own construction company in the D.C. area and as part-owner of a restaurant and bar in Austin, Texas.

Among the more prominent “old timers” ignored by the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, Smith has been inducted to the Redskins All Time 50th Anniversary Team, the Washington Hall Of Stars, and The Washington Redskins Ring Of Fame. Our
readers can call upon their own memories of the great Jerry Smith when viewing his well-preserved 1970 Riddell RK Redskins helmet, once a gleaming Green Bay gold that took the place of what had been the Redskins standard burgundy and ‘69’s garnet head piece in preparation for Vince Lombardi’s second year as head coach of the team. Noted inside the helmet is the handwritten number 39. Fullback George Hughley from Central Oklahoma State [see HELMET HUT NEWS/REFLECTIONS December 2017] like Smith was a rookie in 1965 but was cut before the completion of training camp in 1966 under new Head Coach Graham. This Riddell helmet was produced in 1966 thus it is assumed that Hughley took possession of this head gear, relinquished it when cut from the roster, and then acquired by Smith as 39 is scribbled over and 87 also handwritten, has been placed next to it. There is evidence of older garnet and burgundy/plum paint beneath the Green Bay gold. Another distinctive feature of this wonderful piece of Redskins history is the placement of the 1-1/2” player identification numerals on the rear of the helmet. As most interested in football history know the great Coach Lombardi had every intention of rebuilding what had been a moribund Washington franchise over in his image of the powerful Green Bay Packers he had created. This included the uniforms and after altering the jerseys for his first season with the ‘Skins in 1969 to have it more closely align to the style he had introduced to the Packers, it was known that he had designed a new helmet, one that was also closer to the Green Bay model. He added the Redskins “R-and-Feather” to a Green Bay gold shell for the 1970 season and which was maintained by George Allen during the ’71 season. Many helmet aficionados believe he was also planning to add flanking stripes to the burgundy center stripe, another feature that would have taken the Washington helmet closer in appearance to the Packers. There seems to be no other reason to space the rear identification numerals so far apart, a distance that would have given ideal accommodation to flanking stripes. Of course Coach Lombardi’s illness during the 1970 off-season and prior to training camp no doubt prevented his attention to the details of uniforms and the team and perhaps his subsequent passing ended all other uniform or helmet alterations. There was also speculation that the ¾” flanking stripes were applied between the 1969 and ’70 seasons and either Lombardi or others did not like the appearance and subsequently removed them, leaving the widely spaced rear numerals.      

The two-year Washington Redskins helmet, utilized in what would have been Vince Lombardi’s final season and during the first of the George Allen reign, is a singular piece of Redskins and NFL memorabilia if only because it is such a departure from the team’s usual head gear. Because this specific helmet belonged to Jerry Smith, one of the team’s true greats and rather under-appreciated players, and that it has stood up so well to the ravages of time, makes this a very special item.