"To be out
there now in front of 80,000 people and millions more on TV, and just take
control of a situation.... It's like, addictive," he says. "No, it is
addictive." Clearly, he's into the game now.
When he came to
the Bills as the first player picked in the 1985 draft, all Smith was into was
blubber. He was a fatso, proud enough of his 300 pounds to have his picture
taken his senior year at Virginia Tech with his jersey tied in a knot, his
belly hanging out like a walrus pup. People still talk about Smith's first
night in Buffalo after he signed his contract, when he went to a seafood
restaurant with the Bills' p.r. director at the time, Budd Thalman, and
basically ordered the left side of the menu. In his first time out with his new
teammates, he visited the Big Tree Inn near the stadium and ate enough Buffalo
wings to affect chicken prices in Arkansas.
"The most I
ever ate?" says Smith now. "In one sitting? Maybe four big plates of
fried chicken, biscuits, chitlins, gravy. Then dessert. Apple pie, sweet potato
pie. My mother cooked that stuff, good Southern food, and when I was 300 pounds
I never missed a meal. As a kid I'd eat at my mother's house, then go down the
road to my girlfriend's and eat, and then sometimes go to my friend's house and
eat again. I could gain five pounds in a day. In a week, there wouldn't be a
scale to weigh me."
And there wouldn't
have been a scale to weigh Buffalo's embarrassment had Smith continued on the
course in which he was heading, that of a cocky, overrated, out-of-shape,
first-round loser. Buffalo didn't have the greatest record with
first-rounders—Walt Patulski was a dud in 1972; Tom Cousineau blew off the
Bills for the Canadian Football League in '79; and even Kelly, their first pick
in '83, headed to the USFL for two seasons before joining the Bills in '86. The
heat was on the franchise to do something right.
"There was a
lot of public sentiment for us to take Doug Flutie that year," recalls
general manager Bill Polian, who was the director of pro personnel at the time.
"But we were absolutely convinced Smith was the best player around. We got
into a pretty good bidding war with the [USFL] Baltimore Stars for him."
The Bills won, but what had they signed—the Blob with an attitude?
Smith started 13
games his first season and had 6½ sacks, but Buffalo's defense was terrible,
and Smith was undisciplined and getting by on raw talent. He was "very
self-indulgent," says coach Marv Levy, who took over during the '86 season.
"I didn't have my priorities in order," says Smith.
But that was the
pretreadmill Smith. He now carries 265 pounds or less year-round on his
6'4" frame and looks like a terminator sculpted from carbon. He has a
19-inch neck, a 37-inch inseam, 37½-inch sleeves, size 14EE shoes and, as he
puts it, "a great big ass." That's just one of the muscle groups that
give him the power to knife in on quarterbacks at impossible angles, scattering
would-be blockers as he goes.
talking about a guy who is stronger than a 300-pounder and faster than a
linebacker," says Bills All-Pro center Kent Hull. "His speed around the
corner is unreal. And if you move out, he'll take one step upfield, spin inside
and he's gone. I think he's double-jointed. He'll line up over me, and I'll try
to hit him, and there's nothing there—he's going back and coming forward at the
same time. I can't even explain it. There's no way a human being should do what
I've been in pass coverage and just laughed," says Bills linebacker Darryl
Talley, Smith's good friend and roommate on the road. "The other team will
have a tackle and a guard and a back blocking him, and if he beats them, the
center comes over to help. It's just funny to see. It's like they're bees and
Bruce has got sugar on him, like he's dipped in honey. But the most amazing
thing to watch is his rush. Cornelius [Bennett, another Bills linebacker] and I
can't figure it out—it's like a speed skater coming around the corner, he's so
low to the ground, almost flat, with offensive linemen literally chasing
asset is his ability to adjust, to use his momentum to his advantage," says
Cincinnati Bengal tackle Anthony Munoz. "His quickness reminds me of Lee
Roy Selmon and Fred Dean, but they were 15 to 30 pounds lighter. You can tell
he'd be a great basketball player." Indeed, Smith was just that, leading
Booker T. Washington High to the 1980 Virginia state Group AAA championship
game as a high-scoring, if overweight, center.