Sammie Smith is a cautionary tale. After breaking rushing records for the Florida State Seminoles during the late 1980s, Sammie declared for the 1989 NFL draft. His stock would shoot up in the final weeks leading up to it, buoyed by a reputed 4.35 40. A stacked draft, Smith was the third runningback taken off the board in the first round, (after Barry Sanders and Tim Worley) with the 9th pick. A tremendous talent, Smith would set a Dolphins rookie rushing record with his 659 yard season in 1989, including a 3 touchdown performance against the New England Patriots. He’d follow this up in 1990 with another solid season with 839 yards and his two year career totals set new Sophomore marks for the 20+ year old franchise at the time, but that would all come crashing down in 1991.
You see, Sammie had a habit of putting the rock on the ground. My friends and I knew that he was so notorious for it, that when a player fumbled twice in a game or on a regular basis, we called it, “A case of Sammie Smith-itis”. Sammie’s 1991 would be incredibly rough and after 2 games, Smith didn’t even have positive yardage. At Kansas City in week 3 Smith fumbled on the goal line against the Chiefs, who recovered it and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown as the Dolphins got crushed 42-7, but the worst was yet to come. In a home game the following week Sammie and the Dolphins would play the Houston Oilers. Clutching to a 14-10 lead late in the game, the ‘Fins would have a chance to seal the victory as they knocked on the Oilers doorstep for a touchdown. The announcers casually mention Sammie Smith in the backfield and how he fumbled the previous week. As the ball was handed off to him, Lamar Lathon came through the line with Cris Dishman and punched the ball loose- again. Lathon recovered the ball and the Oilers marched down the field for the winning touchdown. Sammie sobbed on the sideline as fans chanted “Sammie Sucks!” Smith would be pulled aside after the game, where coach Don Shula tried to tell Sammie that he had made big plays in the past for the Dolphins and he’d make big plays in the future. He just needed to shake off today.
It never happened. Sammie’s 1991 would come to a thudding end, and during the season’s epilogue the Dolphins would trade Sammie Smith straight up with the Broncos for Bobby Humphrey. The hope was that a change of scenery would help both players, but a groin injury would derail most of Smith’s 1992, and end his career. Sammie despite only playing roughly 4 seasons still finished financially well off.
He’d return home, but be caught in a drug sting as a ‘major player’ in a cocaine operation in 1996. Sammie would plead guilty and be sent to jail. Convicted of 2 counts to distribute he faced 20 to life in prison at the age of 29. Sammie would take his time in prison to refocus his life and try to turn it around, helping those who are potentially at risk in life and with drugs. After 7 years he was placed on parole, and in 2010, at the age of 43, with the help of his former coach Bobby Bowden, friends and family, he won the restoration of his civil rights. Smith remains active locally conducting football camps, connecting with former friends and teammates, and trying to help at risk children.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Sammie despite my genial poking at his career and while I would’ve decried what happened to him as ‘stupid’, the reality of it is, that it was tragic and saddening. I would have sent to Sammie sooner, had I known he was out of prison earlier and I was happy to receive these two autographs in roughly 6 months time. It’s been a long and winding difficult road for Sammie- but he is proof positive that you can find redemption after your darkest hour.
G/Gs 44/35 Rush 532 Yds 1881 Avg 3.5 Td 15 Lg 33 |
Rec 32 Yds 310 Avg 9.7 Td 1 Lg 53