Spirit, determination defined ex-Colt Smith

2-time Super Bowl starter as a defensive lineman is dead of cancer at 66

Pro Football

March 23, 2001|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Short on goods, long on grit. That's how teammates remembered Billy Ray Smith, the Baltimore Colts defensive lineman who died Wednesday in Little Rock, Ark., after a two-year fight with cancer. He was 66.

"He was a tough, old country boy who never gave up -- on anything," said tackle Fred Miller, who played beside Smith for seven years. "He'd punch his [opponent] in the belly to get past him. Toughness made him better than most with his ability.

"You'd have to take him off this Earth to beat him."

Smith was a member of the 1954 Arkansas team that played in the Cotton Bowl. The Los Angeles Rams drafted him in 1957 and, a year later, traded him to Pittsburgh. In 1961, the Steelers sent him to the Colts, where he started in two Super Bowls.

had all the desire that a guy could muster,""He said Gino Marchetti, Colts Hall of Fame defensive end. "He was a self-made player, like Bill Pellington and Raymond Berry. Strong as an ox, too, and awful proud of his arm wrestling. I had more sense than to challenge him."

Smith weighed 235 pounds, small for a lineman even then. What he lacked in stature, he made up for in subterfuge.

"He was ... conniving," said Ordell Braase, the Colts' other defensive end. "Once, against San Francisco, he had a plastic shield molded to fit over his hand, like a pair of brass knuckles. He whaled away at [49ers guard] Harvey Mudd until the guy couldn't remember the count for the snap."

Smith, nicknamed "Rabbit," was as much a character off the field. Once, in a Roaring '20s bar in San Francisco, he poured a 64-ounce pitcher of beer down a tuba that was being played at the time. Fisticuffs ensued.

"Sometimes I think Rabbit played football just to enjoy the social life that went with it," Braase said.

A former champion amateur boxer, Smith participated in a legendary post-game brawl beneath the stands after an exhibition game against Philadelphia.

He and Eagles lineman Lum Snyder flailed away at each other "for hours," recalled Larry Harris, former football writer for The Evening Sun. The fight ended in a draw, Harris said, "with both men lying in the dirt, reaching out and trying to hit the other."

Smith retired after the 1971 Super Bowl, a Colts victory in which he played a pivotal role.

Dallas led 13-6 in the second half when the Cowboys' Duane Thomas fumbled on the Colts' 1-yard line. From the pileup, Smith bellowed, "Colts' ball! Colts' ball!"

Officials signaled as much, and refused to reverse the call when Dallas emerged with the ball. The Colts went on to win, 16-13.

From 1965 to 1970, Smith had worked off-seasons as a broker in the Baltimore headquarters of Alex. Brown. In 1970, he joined White, Weld in Texas. In 1978, he became head of Brown's branch office in Dallas in the firm's first expansion west of the Mississippi.

Smith later joined the investment firm, Stephens Inc., where he became vice president in 1994. He retired in 1996.

Smith is survived by his wife, Jenny; two sons, Billy Ray Smith Jr., a two-time All-American at Arkansas and former San Diego Charger, and Lt. Col. Kevin Bruce Smith, a West Point graduate; two daughters, Shelly Jo Swaim and Shannon Mobley; two stepdaughters, Shelly Fowler and Shannon Johnson; a stepson, Shane Ball, nine grandchildren and two sisters, Polly Ann McCormick and Peggy Smart.

A funeral is scheduled tomorrow morning in Little Rock. To sign an online guestbook, go to www.legacy.com on the Internet.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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