Neil Smith Has Earned The Honor
Smith played during one of the most nostalgia-worthy eras in the history of Chiefs football. From week to week you could feel the energy of the city, the anticipation growing as the week drew closer to gameday. Red Friday seemed like an actual holiday and it was each person's civic duty to don their red clothing with pride.
On Sundays, the entire metro would become a ghost town for three and a half hours. Streets that were usually busy carried minimal traffic and a silence stretched over the city that was more typical of 3 or 4 a.m. Stores closed, radios channels changed and every fifth house you passed had some sort of Chiefs signage in the yard or driveway.
The Arrowhead Stadium atmosphere was electric. Thousands of tailgaters formed a brotherhood that poured into the stands like a host of medieval skirmishers. When opposing offenses took the field, the noise was continually deafening. It was during this era that the 12th man was at the height of its existence.
Two of the players that fed this level of fanaticism were Smith and Derrick Thomas, the NFL's most feared duo of pass rushers in the 1990's. Smith and Thomas were first-round draft picks taken in successive years in 1988 and ‘89. More than anyone else, it was their combined efforts of charisma and talent that carried the Chiefs to the heights they achieved in the 90's.
Smith and Thomas were nearly inseparable. You rarely mentioned one without the other. As a duo they terrorized the league for eight consecutive seasons until the Chiefs could no longer afford to keep both. During the 1997 offseason, Smith was forced to find another home as the NFL salary cap split the greatest set of pass rushers to ever play the game.
Unfortunately, because Smith played so many years opposite Thomas, he rarely gets the credit he deserves. While he's remembered for the red and white band aid on the bridge of his nose and his patented home run swing, many fans forget that he was more. Smith was better than good - he was fantastic. His level of play often flirted with greatness. Most NFL experts will tell you, while in his prime, Smith was one of the top four defensive ends in the league. Only Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Leslie O'Neal rivaled his abilities.
During his nine years with the Chiefs, Smith racked up 86.5 sacks (second in team history) and forced 29 fumbles en route to six Pro Bowls. He also produced 346 pressures, 403 solo tackles and 13 fumble recoveries. He's currently eighteenth on the NFL's All-Time Sack list with 104, just two behind Trace Armstrong and three behind Pat Swilling.
At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, Smith was one of the largest defensive ends in the league. But just because he was large didn't mean he wasn't quick, as he could turn the corner on most offensive linemen in their third step. To matters worse, Smith also had a seven-foot wingspan. Even if an offensive lineman was fortunate enough to block him, he was able to simply reach around and grab the quarterback or slap the ball from his hands.
Smith was so talented that a mere flinching or tensing of his muscles could cause the offensive lineman across from him to jump. He used this tactic so often that the NFL created the "Flinch Rule" in 1998, outlawing defensive players from flinching before the snap to draw movement from an offensive lineman.
During his tenure with the Chiefs, Smith was a franchise-level player. In recognition of his efforts he'll be inducted in to the Chiefs Hall Of Fame this Sunday. His time with the Chiefs marks one of the most successful eras of the franchise. Without his efforts, that era might never have occurred, and because of that he's deserving of every honor bestowed.
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