The Art of Sport with Bruce Smith — in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine
By Alfred Santasiere III
September 12, 2016 — Last fall, I met up with Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith at Champions restaurant in Uniondale, New York, for dinner and to interview him for an Art of Sport feature in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine.
Smith was in town for the Joe Namath — March of Dimes golf outing, and we chose Champions because it was the most convenient location for both of us to meet. Little did I know (or remember) but it also had the perfect backdrop for our interview. As you can see in the photo below, the back wall of the restaurant — which is located inside the Long Island Marriott — features an enormous photo of the original Yankee Stadium, taken during the 2000 World Series.
As we sat down for dinner, Smith noticed the photo.
“This feels like we are sitting in a suite at the old Stadium,” he said. “This is the best place to do an interview for Yankees Magazine.”
My interview with Smith, the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 200, began with a question about his earliest days in Norfolk, Virginia, where he grew up in the 1970s.
“It was a challenging place to grow up, to say the least,” Smith said. “There were civil rights issues, and each of my parents worked two jobs at a time to make ends meet. It was invaluable because I learned a lot of lessons from not having a lot and making the most out of what we did have. My mother worked in a plastic factory for a number of years and sold lunches that she would prepare the night before. My father drove a dump truck for a construction company and also drove a cab. Seeing how they did things they didn’t necessarily love doing but had to do in order to provide for their family helped me understand how important it was to find something that I would enjoy doing for a living.”
As the evening moved along, our conversation shifted to Smith’s 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. The №1 overall pick in the 1985 draft shared his memories of his first trip to Western New York.
“I went up there in May of 1985 for the first minicamp,” Smith said. “[Fellow rookie] Andre Reed and I were on the plane together going there. During our first practice, we noticed some dark clouds off in the distance, and within 15 minutes, it rained, snowed and hailed. After a 30-minute downpour, the sun came out, and I thought to myself, ‘What the [heck] have I gotten myself into?’ Later that season, I believe it snowed for 31 straight days, starting with Halloween. But it warmed up very quickly when we started winning.”
The Bills certainly won a lot of games while Smith was in Buffalo, especially between 1990 and 1993, when they took home four consecutive AFC championships. Smith spoke about the factors that he believes led to the team’s unequaled success and to his individual accomplishments during that era.
“Well, the game slowed down for me,” said Smith, who made 19 sacks in 1990. “I had shaved about 40 pounds off. I knew how to study film and break down the opponent, and I had great talent around me on defense. We had the most potent offense in football for a number of years with Thurman Thomas, Jim Kelly and Andre Reed, and we had fans that really made it difficult for opposing offenses in Buffalo. There wasn’t a louder stadium in the league than ours. We gave our fans something to shout about every single Sunday, and they fed off of that.”
The most interesting part of our conversation came when I asked Smith how he would describe the legacy of the Bills teams that made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and lost football’s biggest game four times in a row.
“Those teams epitomized what life is all about,” Smith said. “We got knocked down time and time again, but our courage, resilience, work ethic and our never-give-up mentality will live on forever. We got knocked down more than any other team, and we kept getting up. That can never be taken away. While some people may look at the Bills in that era as being losers, I would ask them to define the term ‘loser.’ We won a ton of games, and we were AFC champions four times in a row. I’m proud to have been a part of those great teams.”
The entire Q&A is in the September Issue of Yankees Magazine, along with a separate Art of Sport feature on New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor.
— Alfred Santasiere III