The Biggest Hit: A true 12th man for WSU

FROM THE CF.C ARCHIVES: The true story of a cougfan, several beers, and one of the most celebrated tackles in WSU history! (Article originally published on CF.C in 1998 with a big assist from John Blanchette.)

BACK IN THE AGE OF Acquarius, when students actually rioted for reasons other than rioting, Terry Smith stood out in a crowd.

In 1970, as a WSU sophomore who'd consumed entirely too much Pabst Blue Ribbon, Smith did something that every football fan has probably felt like doing during a dreadful performance by their team.

"Smack in the middle of the worst football season ever at WSU, Smith vaulted out of the stands at Albi Stadium to make a tackle that his heroes on the field could not," John Blanchette, the venerable dean of Pacific Northwest sports scribes, remembered in a story a few years back.

To many, it remains the single most remarkable hit in Cougar history. Not as bone-jarring, perhaps, as the blow Lincoln Walden-Schulz put on that intercepting USC cornerback in '98. Or as jaw-dropping as the one Phillip Glover leveled on that Montana punt returner in '95. Or as definitive as any of Mark Fields' branding-iron strikes when the Palouse Posse rode in '94.

But certainly the most remarkable hit. One that ranks Terry Smith as Wazzu's ultimate 12th man.

It happened on Oct. 17, 1970. Stanford was on its way to the first of two straight Rose Bowl victories and stopped in Spokane -- Albi Stadium was WSU's home field that year -- long enough to stomp the Cougars 63-16.

Wazzu, which had lost 13 of its last 14 games, would lose every Pac-8 game that year by an average of 31 points. Smith couldn't put a dent in that, though he certainly tried.

Today, he is in his 50s, retired from a career at Atlantic Richfield and living in Southern California.

In 1970, he was 27, a year removed from an 18-month Army hitch in Vietnam, a sophomore from Richland majoring in business administration and enjoying a beer or two, or three, or . . . .

"Motoring up from Pullman that day, he and his buddies found seats in Albi's west grandstand, close to the north end zone," wrote Blanchette. "The day was dazzlingly sunny, but Smith and friends continued to fortify themselves against a potential arctic front. And watched Stanford's famed 'Thunder Chickens' turn up the heat on Ol' Wazzu."

Said Smith, "They had (Jim) Plunkett at quarterback, of course, but they didn't have to throw it much. They just kept running it around the left side, coming our way all the time and nobody could stop him 'em. They got it down to about the 25-yard line and I kept telling my friends, "If they keep making that left run, I'll go out there and tackle him."

After a little nudging from his friends, he finally went over the ledge. The newspaper account had Smith telling a buddy, "This is no good," before heading over the railing when Plunkett handed off to sophomore Eric Cross.

"Everybody was yelling at me," Smith told Blanchette. "I actually had this moment of clarity - how stupid this was and how I'd better not do it. But all of a sudden, he was at the 5-yard line and I was out there.'"

Cross was darting toward the end zone. He checked over his right shoulder when a blur appeared in his peripheral vision on the left.

"I swear he could have gone around me," Smith said, "but he lowered his head with his helmet and everything. I remember thinking, Oh, God. I had a football coach at Richland High School, Fran Rish, who used to tell me, `Terry, get your big ass down.' So I hit him as low as I could -- and he went flying one way, and I went flying the other.''

The collision happened at the goal line. Cross, who carried the ball but once that day, was given the touchdown - and an unwitting role in Cougar lore. He remained stunned on the Albi turf, while Smith headed back toward the bleachers before being intercepted by police.

Fans roared their approval of Smith. Cheerleaders started passing the hat to raise bail. On Albi's east side, alums were waving tens and twenties that were never collected. On the student side alone, according to Smith, more than $800 was raised.

For drunkenness and disorderly conduct, he wound up forfeiting a $50 bond and whatever anonymity he might have had.

While he made "The Paul Harvey Show," his mother back in Richland wouldn't speak to him for a week.

Stanford coach John Ralston called Smith's tackle "the toughest hit of the day."

Years later, a friend of Smith's in Chicago saw Plunkett in a bar when the quarterback was playing for New England and struck up a conversation that began, "Do you remember . . ."

And so Smith still has a scrap of paper that says, "How you doing?" and the signature "Jim Plunkett."


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