Life is a
treadmill, of course. Bruce Smith has turned that axiom around: The treadmill
is his life. The pedals go up and down, the chain goes around and around, and
the Buffalo Bills' All-Pro defensive end churns his massive legs, grits his
teeth and sweats like a frosted mug in the sun. Stair after stair, floor after
floor, mile after mile, calorie after calorie, time after time.
engine of torture is a stair-climbing machine, the same gadget the ladies use
down at the health club, the one with the cherry-red lights to display hills
and valleys, and with little beeps to signal the end of the ride. Wherever he
goes, Smith finds one of these machines and rides it like a cowboy on a steer.
He punches in the numbers given him by Bills strength coach Rusty Jones,
overriding the normal computerized program, and for 20 or 30 minutes he is
possessed. At home Smith has a bright, glass-walled room containing nothing but
his own stair climber, which he has positioned so that he has a view of his
backyard pool and the saltwater inlet that meanders lazily to Chesapeake Bay.
Smith seldom has time these days for the pool, but the stair climber is
beginning to rust from the constant torrent of sweat that pours onto it.
"Bruce Smith does a workout designed for defensive backs, wide receivers
and marathoners," says Jones. In a 20-minute workout, Smith climbs the
equivalent of 148 floors, running 3.5 miles, burning off 800 calories.
The Bills got into
stair climbers three years ago because the machines are good aerobic
conditioners, they're easy on the knees and "because there is a great
carryover from the stair climber to the field," says Jones. Smith got into
stair climbers because he is on a mission.
So, it seems, are
the Bills. They came within two points-missing a 48-yard field goal attempt in
the last eight seconds—of beating the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV last
January. If the Bills had won, we would be talking about them as the team of
the '90s instead of questioning whether they can stick together long enough to
make another run at the championship. But the Bickering Bills of 1989 seem
dead—all the feuding and finger-pointing over tough losses has ceased—and the
Boisterous Bills have arrived.
guaranteed a group of sportswriters that the Bills would win the Super Bowl
this year—a statement that might have created havoc on the team in the past,
but not now. "A lot of players feel the same way," says Thurman Thomas,
the Bills' All-Pro running back. "I do. We probably have more talent than
anybody in the league."
That talent has to
get along with itself, however. Thomas and quarterback Jim Kelly, who were once
among the finger-pointers, are now happy pals. "We just put our differences
aside," says Thomas. And Kelly and Smith, the offensive and defensive
superstars with the all-world egos, are cheerful competitors now. "We like
to jack with each other," says Kelly. "Everybody likes competition, and
in practice Bruce will try to rush in and get real close to me, and if he does,
I shove him. He enjoys the game, and so do I. Nobody bows to Bruce, we just
bring him down to our level."
Norwood, who missed that last-second field goal in the Super Bowl, bows to
Smith just a bit. "Afterward he gave me a big hug at the hotel, telling me
it wasn't me who lost the game," says Norwood. "It meant a lot to me,
and that's an example of how the team has come together." The team also has
benefited from Smith's willingness to assume the role of marked man, the guy
whole offenses will try to defeat, using traps, crackbacks, rollouts away from
him, three-step quarterback drops and wave after wave of blockers trying to
nullify his charge.
frustrating, but I accept it," Smith says. His philosophy has been helped
by worshipful Bills defensive line coach Chuck Dickerson, who tells Smith
before games, "You think they aren't going to find you? You're being
complimented in a special way. Take it on. Make the——bleed!"
goal is to be the best ever at his position and to be acknowledged as such.
"It's hard to get recognition in Buffalo," he sighs. Which is why he
sometimes blows his own trumpet more than he should. He also does so because he
is consumed with being a football player these days, and because he feels that
judgment of him on the field is judgment of him as a person. He is still two
semesters away from a degree in sociology, and he has no precise plans for his
post-football career except to "help people" in some type of charitable
He wants his money
to last so he can always take care of his "small, tight-knit
family"—wife, parents, brother, sister and only nephew. He bought his
parents a $140,000 house in 1986, and he wants to be the patriarch of the Smith
family some day. Bruce wants to pay it all back. It's why he has settled down,
why he appreciates the blessings he has.