Cardinal Numbers

Jackie Smith was an awe-inspiring football player, no doubt about it

Nov 28, 2001 at 4:00 am
I still don't generally feel I'm getting old, but while researching Jackie Smith's career and fondly remembering his bulldozing of such archenemies as the Cowboys and the Redskins, it struck me that very few people under the age of about 35 would have any recollection of a 16-year career that ended in 1978.

Fifteen of those years were spent with the St. Louis Cardinals, who took Smith -- born in Mississippi but raised in Kentwood, La. -- out of Northwestern Louisiana in the 10th round of the 1963 draft. From deep down in that year's college-talent pool, Smith went on professionally to make 480 receptions for 7,918 yards; at his retirement he ranked as the 11th all-time receiver in the NFL and the top-ranking tight end. Despite the fact that tight ends are often regarded as the cannon fodder of the receiving corps, Smith missed just 12 games during his entire career.

Like his teammate Dan Dierdorf, Smith followed up his career by staying in St. Louis and entering the restaurant business. One exceptionally obscure piece of trivia: Smith and Dierdorf once teamed up in a different arena, as actors in a pilot for a children's game show called Dragon's Riddle. The show, hosted by comedian Avery Schreiber, was shot at Six Flags and drew thousands of entries from local kids seeking to be contestants. It never took off, but Dierdorf went on to an entertainment career of his own, in the broadcast booth and without the requirement of dressing up in a monster costume.