Make That 47

True story:

In the fall of 1984, I was a skinny, malnourished first-year graduate student in clinical psychology at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. This was just shortly before I realized that I wasn’t cut out to be a psychotherapist and needed to work with something I could actually fix–like eyeballs–but I digress.

Moving back to Blacksburg had reignited some childhood allergies which in turn had set off a touch of asthma, and that was the reason that I was in Ellett’s Drugstore on Main Street looking for drugs–any and all, please–that would give me a few moments of relief. After scooping up and paying for enough OTC medications to anesthetize a herd of charging elephants, I started out the door.

As I neared the entrance, I noticed a large shadow enveloping me, much like that produced by a 747 jumbo jet passing overhead as it’s silhouetted against the sun. Anxious to get back to my apartment and start popping some pills, I ignored the danger sign and pressed forward.

But not for long. I soon collided with what I first thought was the sturdy and immovable trunk of a California Redwood. I stumbled backward a few steps, dropping the drugs, and gazed upward, slowly focusing my watery, red eyes on the mammoth hunk of man blocking the door. The “tree” was 6’4,” weighed about 260 lbs and was wearing a Virginia Tech letter jacket.

“Sorry man, you awright?”

smith.jpgAt that moment, Hokies’ defensive lineman Bruce Smith, who was renowned for dishing out loads of malice on opposing offensive players, had the look of someone who had accidentally stepped on a newborn kitten. I apologized too and told him that I should have looked where I was going (very true). He slapped me on the back, nearly knocking me over again, smiled, and went on his way. As I headed back to my apartment, my allergies woes receded into the background of my consciousness as I contemplated my collision with football greatness. I was stunned, but also a little thrilled.

After tackling me, Bruce (we’re on a first-name basis now) went on to win the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate lineman, was named a consensus All-American and was the 1985 #1 NFL draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. He remained with the hard-luck Bills the majority of his career, playing in four consecutive Super Bowls at one point, but failing to win the coveted ring.

But he was named to eleven Pro Bowl teams, and after signing with the Washington Redskins as a free agent in 1999, he went on to break Reggie White’s all-time NFL sack record with 200 near the end of the 2003 season. He was recently part of a distinguished class named to the College Football Hall of Fame and will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. It would seem to me that he’s probably a lock.

My encounter with Bruce Smith and sports greatness was my closest one since 1970, the time that I stayed in the same Los Angeles hotel as the Cincinnati Reds and rode the elevator with Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez. But I do have a bone to pick with the sports archivists at Virginia Tech. If you look at the record book, they have Bruce down for 46 career sacks.

I beg to differ–make that 47.

  1. Donna

    I had NO IDEAL that you were so famous!!

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’ve had several such encounters with famous figures. I always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Sort of like Forrest Gump.

  3. Jim Martin

    A great story! I laughed at your description of this encounter.

  4. Stoogelover

    Loved the story! Great start to my day.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks guys, glad you enjoyed it. Laughter is good medicine. I think I read that somewhere.

  6. Jason Bybee

    Great story, Mike. Smith was one of the all-time greats. What a memory!

  7. Jason Bybee

    And you rode on the same elevator as Tony Perez? I’m jealous….

  8. Mike the Eyeguy

    I was 8-years-old when I rode the elevator with Perez. I was already a Reds fan so I knew who he was immediately. The only thing that would have been better would have been for Johnny Bench to show up too. I couldn’t muster up the courage to speak to him, so I just looked up at him and stared with mouth agape. He looked down at me and smiled.

    I’ve also shaken hands and chatted briefly with Colin Powell. Oh, and did I ever tell you about the time I met former world-record holder in the mile and Olympian silver medalist Congressman Jim Ryun of Kansas? And there’s the time that I snuck into Cameron Indoor Stadium and stumbled upon “a few famous folks” as well.

    All stories for another day. Like I said, “I am not a smahutt man,” but I do know how to be in the right place at the right time.

  9. Hal

    This reminds me of the time, in my undergraduate career, when I was driving through Charlottesville, VA and I was rear ended at a traffic light. I got out of my car and walked back to the car that hit me. This tall dude unfolded his large frame from his car and stood over me like a big oak tree. I had to tilt my head back just to see his face. It was Ralph Samson. When the cop came to do his paperwork he had to ask Ralph to sit down because he was getting a crick in his neck looking up at him.

    That’s my brush with sports fame.

  10. Mike the Eyeguy

    That’s a good one. Did he have good insurance?

  11. Hal

    Well, now that you ask, the policeman (knowing what a star prospect he was – this was early in his freshman year) wrote up the incident as a “no fault” accident. So, I called his insurance agency and stated that he rear-ended me and that they need to pay up. They wouldn’t. The car he was driving was owned by a car dealer in Harrisonburg, VA. So, my Dad had a hunch. He called UVA and told them that he believed that the car RS was driving violated NCAA rules regarding scholarship atheletes. And, if his son (me) didn’t get a check to cover the damages sustained in the accident that he would be calling NCAA to report it. One week later I received a check in the mail from RS’s insurance company.

  12. Mike the Eyeguy

    Your father is one cool operator.

Comments are closed.