Tim Smith enters new phase, league

May 25, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

On those days when he allows himself the luxury of hindsight, Tim Smith still rolls through the Denver Broncos unimpeded.

Smith turns the counter gap into a 58-yard touchdown gallop. Undaunted by his first NFL start, he rumbles through the pitiable Broncos to a Super Bowl-record 204 rushing yards.

On Jan. 31, 1988, Smith, then a rookie running back for the Washington Redskins, played a game for the ages. Little did he know the ages would hold it up as testimony of what might have been. These days, he doesn't rewind the tape in his head nearly as often.

"It's all in the past," he said from Denver. "I want to try to make something else happen. I want to take this opportunity and cherish it."

Smith arrives in Baltimore this afternoon in one last attempt to drag his once-promising career out of a musty football closet. Now 30, and long since a phenom, he is starting over with a new team, the CFL Colts, in a strange league, the Canadian Football League.

He played one regular-season NFL game in the past five years. Long shot or not, the Colts have no qualms about bringing him to training camp, which starts Friday at Towson State.

"If he can perform at the level he's capable of performing at, he's worth our while," said Jim Popp, the team's director of player personnel. "We feel he's still got it. But he's got to prove he's still got it."

The outcome will depend on which Smith shows up. Will it be the one who ran roughshod over the Broncos and gained 100 yards twice in the first three weeks of 1988? Or the one who quickly wore out his welcome under coach Joe Gibbs in Washington, whose reputation was hurt by a questionable work ethic and a cloud of suspicion?

By 1989, the Redskins let Smith go to the San Diego Chargers via Plan B free agency. He didn't make it to the regular season. In 1990, he had a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys. And with Emmitt Smith unsigned, Tim Smith won a spot on the opening day roster. But after rushing six times for 6 yards, he was released.

He was next seen preparing for the Professional Spring Football League in 1992. After five weeks of practice, the league folded. "A waste of time," he said.

Along the way, he grew fat -- ballooning to 230 from his Redskins weight of 216 -- and suspect in the eyes of the NFL.

"I really don't know what it was," Smith said of the lack of NFL interest. "They had it out I had a drug problem. [But] I never associated with any drugs in my life. I never failed a drug test. I told my agent to tell them I'd take a drug test every day of the week, just to prove I never have taken any drugs."

Smith's agent, Jack Crouse, started petitioning the NFL last October for a camp invitation. When he came up empty, he moved on to the CFL. And because Popp directed workouts in the PSFL, he was receptive. "I know he lost a tremendous amount of weight," Popp said. "He works out every day. For a guy to do that, he must want it bad enough."

Crouse said before he decided to represent Smith, he checked out the rumors and found no substance.

"I heard different things, most pertaining to drug issues," Crouse said. "I think he sort of fell in Joe's doghouse [with the Redskins], and it was tough to get out."

Smith's last camp was in Dallas. His last job was also in Dallas. He worked six months as a personal trainer before moving in with his brother, Steve, in Denver. Smith says he weighs 220 and is in good shape.

In the pass-happy CFL, Smith's priorities will be pass-catching first, running second and blocking third. "Not only catching the -- ball," coach Don Matthews said, "but running routes. He won't be [judged] any different than anyone else. We will keep the best players. Because Tim Smith was with the Redskins and is known locally has no impact. Now he becomes a football player (( trying to make the team."

Smith knows he's down to his last stand in football. "I'm looking at it as a fresh start," he said. "I'm trying to climb the ladder back up to where I was. . . . I have good feelings about this opportunity."

NOTE: The Colts signed former Redskins strong safety Alvin Walton yesterday and will play him at outside linebacker. Walton played with the Redskins from 1986 to 1991, and led the team in tackles from 1987 to 1990.

THE SMITH FILE

Born: Jan. 21, 1964 in Hobbs, N.M.

Size: 5 feet 11, 220

NFL career: Washington Redskins 1987-88 (24 games); Dallas Cowboys 1990 (1 game)

L Last NFL game: Sept. 9, 1990, Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers

NFL regular-season stats: 22 games, 602 yards rushing, 3.2 average gain, 3 TDs, 9 catches for 51 yards.

NFL playoff stats: 3 games, 342 yards rushing, 6.7 average gain, 2 TDs, 1 catch for 9 yards.

Claim to fame: Rushed 22 times for Super Bowl record 204 yards and 2 TDs in Redskins' 42-10 romp over Denver in Super Bowl XXII in San Diego.

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