- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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It's so different on the field. Bruce Smith climbs off the treadmill at game time. "I just love being out there and running wild," he says.
"He'll screw up the whole defense if you give him a chance," says Bills defensive coordinator Walt Corey. "He just wants to go get 'em. Darryl's the only one who can control him." But Corey also tells his other players, "If you want to make a name for yourself, you better take advantage of this guy being on your team."
Smith's celebrations after sacks are among the gaudiest in the league (page 96), and they have earned him a warning letter from the NFL office. His antics also have gotten under the skin of many opposing offensive linemen. "I'll talk about his football skills," says the Bengals' Munoz. "But on his personality, I have no comment."
Smith is probably the victim of more chop blocks than any defender in the league. Foes pay him the respect of making him a marked man, and he looks for respect in other ways as well. When he told the New York media last season that he was better than Lawrence Taylor, creating a minor hurricane in the Big Apple sports pages, he was simply telling the truth. When he plays, he wears the smallest pads he can find, no hip pads at all, no gloves and only a tiny bit of tape on his hands and wrists for support. On turf he wears basketball shoes. He comes stripped and ready to embrace whatever you can throw at him. "I consider myself a gladiator," he says.
"He's got a horn coming out of the middle of his head, and he'll gore you with it," says Dickerson, the Bills' line coach, who cuts his own film of Smith's exploits just to watch by himself for pure pleasure. "I look in his eyes on Sunday and I see a different game there. I see white heat. He's one of the unique players who operates in a different freaking world than the rest of us. The true warriors. Think it doesn't move me? Huh? Look at that." The old coach lifts his right arm to show the goose bumps that run from his biceps to his wrist.
Bruce Smith watches as his father, a former amateur boxer, breathes hard and slowly signs his name to the papers held in front of him by family attorney Bob Romm. Also at the sickbed is Bruce's mother. George Smith is executing his last will and testament, approving the distribution, upon his demise, of various assets to his family. Bruce gets a shotgun. The timberland in North Carolina goes to the three children.
The legal business completed, George Smith sinks back and haltingly begins to say goodbye to his family.
"Dad, you're not going anywhere," Bruce says gently.
Funny how you never know when the end will come. After Smith was suspended by the league for drug use, the Bills hired off-duty police to follow him and make sure he stayed clean. Smith spotted a car tailing him one day on 1-90 in Buffalo and called Talley on his car phone to give Talley the license number of the car following him, in case Smith should die mysteriously. You're not being paranoid if someone really is after you. Smith speeded up, then slowed down, and the tail went flying past him, smoke pouring from under the hood of the car. The cop had blown his engine—and his cover. At first the Bills denied the surveillance scheme, but now Polian says it was just "a misunderstanding." Hamburg, N.Y., police chief Mathew Czerwiec, whose men were hired for the work, says he's sorry the story got out, but it was true. "I love the Bills," says the chief. "But I'm not going to lie about this. I'm not on their payroll."
Smith now calls the incident "very bad comedy," but at the time it was a reminder of his own mortality. Now he talks to his dad about another such incident, about that day they ran out of gas in the boat.