In 1973, Washington Redskins tight end Jerry Smith help lead his team to Super Bowl VII. Smith who was in the closet was one of the best football players around. In his career he caught 421 passes and make 60 touchdowns. He had 5,496 yards receiving! Smith was named "All-Pro" twice and made a number of National Football League records.
Smith was a star player at Arizona State University where he was team captain in 1964. The football giant played for the Washington Redskins from 1965 to 1977. The football player is a member of Arizona State's "All Time" rooster and also in the Redskin Hall of Fame.
Most importantly, I had the opportunity to meet Smith a number of times and he was one of the most decent and kind individuals I have ever met. He was this masculine, massive and soft spoken football giant who struggled with his sexuality.
The handsome football star was 6'3" and 208lbs.
Smith kept his homosexuality a guarded secret although he had a relationship with David Kopay who was the first person to ever come out after playing for the National Football League.
In 1985, Smith at 43 years old was diagnosed with having HIV/AIDS. While never coming out of the closet about being gay he was open about having HIV/AIDS. In his final days the football giant weigh only 140lbs and was kept alive by intravenous feeding for the last four month of his life.
The Chicago Tribune wrote of Smith's last days:
``It took tremendous courage for Jerry to do what he did, [coming out about his HIV status]`` former teammate Brig Owens said, alluding to Smith`s public disclosure of his illness. ``But that`s Jerry. He was a team guy right to the end.``
Owens was Smith`s training camp roommate for 12 seasons. When Smith retired in 1977, he said: ``Of all the good things football has done for me, one of the best is my relationship with Brig.`` They remained best friends over the years.
Owens visited Smith almost daily the last few months. He was at Smith`s bedside two weeks ago, along with the Rev. Tom Skinner, the Redskins` former team chaplain, when Smith said he had made his peace with the Lord.
``He told us not to feel bad for him,`` Skinner said. ``He said he had a great life and many wonderful friends. He said: `When my time comes, I want you to tell everyone that. I don`t want them to be sad.` ``
Jerry Smith died Oct. 15 in Holy Cross Hospital in suburban Washington. Skinner delivered the eulogy at the funeral service last week.
Jerry's football jersey number was 87. This Super Bowl weekend if you can find a jersey with 87 on it wear it in memory of one of our greatest gay sports figures and a damn decent man.