"I went to visit my father in Lemoore [Calif.]," says Smith. "He looked right through me, stone silent as usual. Then, for the first time in my life, he reached for my hand. 'I don't really know what happened,' he said, 'but what you did was right.'
"I melted. From this severe man I'd tried to please all my life, that was worth a lot of suffering."
Third World support rolled in—most dramatically from members of the Cuban 400-meter-relay team, who sent their silver medals to Harry Edwards, the San Jose State sociology lecturer who had organized the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). Cubans, however, were not the friends you would pick to charm Middle America.
Smith began his final semester of college. When he tried to register for his ROTC classes, he was told to turn in his uniform. "Captain Cisneros, who was about the only one there who would talk to me, said if I did that, all would be forgotten," says Smith. "And it was." The Army would not have him.
Smith then called Jim Brown, who before the Games had lent Smith money against a future football contract to be negotiated with the Los Angeles Rams. "He wanted his $2,000 back," says Smith. "He said I was 'too eager,' that the Rams wanted no part of me, and to pay the money back."
Smith surveyed other teams and found no interest. "I didn't have any money," he says. "I had a wife, and [his son] Kevin was one year old. I'd answer the phone and a voice would say, 'You are going to die.' I used to check under the hood of my car."
The fist had become a lightning rod.
"Then an Olympic Project for Human Rights lawyer talked to an assistant coach on the Cincinnati Bengals by the name of Bill Walsh," Smith says. "[Bengal head coach] Paul Brown loved speed and power, and took a chance. I was there for three years, making $300 a week on the taxi squad. I kept my sanity." Smith relishes the time still. "I caught a lot of passes from [then quarterback and now Bengal coach] Sam Wyche," he says. "And a lot of hell from Bill, saying, 'Chop those steps at the sideline!' "
After the 1971 preseason, Walsh regretfully called Smith and told him he had been cut. "He suggested I try out in Canada, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I was there a month. That was the same time John Carlos was with the Montreal Alouettes. We met on the streets of Hamilton."
Carlos, as usual, had had a wild ride. If anything, the Olympic experience had made him more bombastic. At meets, he ordered the crowd around, moving people to the 40-yard mark so they could be nearby when he exploded.