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These Bills Stack Up
Rick Reilly
December 07, 1987
Through the draft and now a big trade, Buffalo has built a tough young defense it can bank on for the future
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December 07, 1987

These Bills Stack Up

Through the draft and now a big trade, Buffalo has built a tough young defense it can bank on for the future

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Don't say pie! Not while our second subject, Smith, is around. This is a 285-pound man who, at one point in his life, had to be restrained from riding out of restaurants on the dessert cart. When he arrived in Buffalo, Budd Thalman, the then public relations director, picked him up at the airport and took him out to dinner to discuss the following day's press conference. Went to a seafood place. Smith ordered first.

"I'll have the large porterhouse steak, soup, salad, baked potato, butter and sour cream on that, please."

And Thalman said, "And I'll have the...."

"And," Smith broke in, "the lobster and...."

In Smith's senior year at Virginia Tech he reportedly played some games while weighing more than 300 pounds. "I didn't know how to eat then," he says. "Red meat? I loooooved red meat. Dessert? Ooooooh, I loooooved desserts. I used to have a banana split every day.... Fast food?" We know, we know. He loooooved fast food. "I used to go out and load up at Burger King or someplace like that. Get two or three Whoppers, fries, apple pies. Then just go home and let it just sit in there." O.K., so he knew how to eat, just not how much.

That first year with the Bills he played like a human air bag. He had 6� sacks, true, but this was the Outland Trophy winner, the guy Pete Rozelle flew to New York on draft day just to warm his palm. Smith was depressed. A sensitive fellow, he took unkindly to the critiques by Hank Bullough, then the defensive coordinator and subsequently the head coach. "When you come into a meeting at nine a.m. and your coach is screaming at you that you're never going to be the player they thought you'd be, how are you supposed to feel?" says Smith.

But in the middle of the 1986 season Bullough was yanked back to civilian life, Levy was hired, and Smith announced, "Football is fun again." Except for visiting quarterbacks, it was. Smith blossomed. He julienned offensive tackles to get 15 sacks—second in the AFC behind Raider Sean Jones's 15�—and did it while being routinely tag-teamed.

It was some turnabout. At 285 pounds Smith was suddenly a new man, a mere shadow of his former self, a dieting dynamo. ("Now I just go home and eat popcorn; two Jiffy's a night," he says.) Says Levy, " Ted Cottrell I the Bills' defensive line coach I told me he used to call up Bruce at 10 in the morning in his first off-season, and somebody at the other end would say, 'Wait a minute, I'll go wake him up.' This year when he called at that hour, Bruce had just come back from running or weightlifting."

All of which is why Smith nearly snapped public relations director Denny Lynch in half when Lynch walked up to him after the season and said, "Congratulations, Bruce, you have been named the first alternate to the Pro Bowl."

First alternate? That's all you get when your team is 8-40 over the past three years, when your team's last Monday night appearance, its last nationally televised weekend game and its last All-Pro selection came in 1983? As Smerlas, a four-time All-Pro, puts it, "When you're losing, this place is a vast wasteland. The only ones who'll come see you are the snowflakes."

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