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SUPER BOWL XXII : COMMENTARY : Smith Gets the Wrinkles Out of the Redskin Running Game

February 01, 1988|MIKE DOWNEY

SAN DIEGO — Some of the older, wrinkled, crinkled, gray-bearded, tired-blooded Washington Redskins needed their rest before a big day of football, so they were pleased when Coach Joe Gibbs moved the whole squad the night before Super Bowl XXII to the Lawrence Welk Village resort lodge near Escondido, where, as right guard R.C. Thielemann pointed out, "There was lots of Geritol available."

Thielemann is 32 years old, and no grid-kid any more. Doug Williams also is 32. Dave Butz is 37. Art Monk, Monte Coleman, Neal Olkewicz, Rich Milot, Don Warren . . . they all have seen the dark side of 30, which is the age that is supposedly beyond a younger person's trust.

Timmy Smith is just a pup. He's fresh. He's frisky. He's fast. He's loose. He's quick. He's slick. He's 24 years old, and full of vim and vigor and vinegar. He doesn't need much rest. He doesn't want any rest. He has had enough rest.

Smith rested his last two years of college, at Texas Tech. In all that time, he appeared in one lousy game. Junior year, his knee had torn ligaments and cartilage. Senior year, his ankle was busted, and doctors had to place a pin and a plate in it.

By the time Mr. Smith went to Washington, in the fifth round of the 1987 draft, he was ready to run. Run for daylight. Run for touchdowns. Run for office. You name it, he was ready to run for it.

And Sunday, run he did. He ran halfway to the Mexican border. He ran twice the length of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium field. He ran for 204 yards, a Super Bowl record. He ran for two touchdowns--one 58 yards, the other 4 yards--and had a couple of other great gains that amazed and dazed the Denver Broncos, and that's the way the rookie rumbles.

After a good night's sleep at Lawrence Welk's, he was wonderful, wonderful.

"How are you feeling?" somebody asked.

"It's an unlimited feeling," Timmy Smith said.

"What does a rookie who gets 200 yards in a Super Bowl do for an encore?" another somebody asked.

"I got 200 yards, and I don't want to slack up," Smith said.

Thielemann, thinking back to the New York Giants after they won last year's Super Bowl, said, "I just hope it doesn't go to his head. I'd hate to see him start writing books."

Smith insisted that before his big day, he was well-rested and relaxed. Super Bowl? No sweat. "I've been ready all along," he said. "I made sure I felt comfortable. I let them know I was comfortable and relaxed."

He let them know, because the coaches weren't so sure. All morning, they pretended George Rogers would start at tailback. They even let Rogers be introduced as the starter.

Offensive coordinator Joe Bugel said, "We didn't tell Timmy anything, because we didn't want him getting sick in our locker room."

Here's Gibbs: "I decided Saturday night to start Timmy Smith at running back. I knew George Rogers, our usual starter, was gimpy all week. I called George aside in the locker room this afternoon and told him I wanted to start Timmy the first few plays. I expected to go back to George. But, when Timmy was going so good, we didn't want to make a change."

Not since high school had Smith had a game like this. He had as many rushing yards in the second quarter Sunday (122) as he had in the entire National Football League regular season. He had 131 yards by halftime. And, with Thielemann, Mark May, Raleigh McKenzie, Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic blowing open holes larger than his hometown of Hobbs, N.M., Smith was able to shatter Allen's Super Bowl record.

It reminded him of the time Hobbs High had its big game against Monterrey High of Lubbock, Tex. The game had hardly begun, when Smith got sprung for an 80-yard run from scrimmage. A cameraman from a local TV station ran alongside Smith best he could, to capture the moment.

Smith looked over his shoulder, saw no one there.

He stopped.

He pointed at the camera.

"If you miss this one," he said, "there'll be an instant replay in a minute."

Then he ran on to the end zone.

The next time Smith carried the ball, he broke free for a 70-yard touchdown. The TV guy got the TD. As for Smith, he rushed that day for 5 touchdowns, 312 yards.

College scouts got the news, and came after him. Texas Tech was the winner. But, after leading the Red Raiders in rushing for two years, Smith was sidelined by injuries. And, his showoffy manner was a contributing factor.

After missing his junior year, Smith started his comeback with a date against New Mexico State. Quickly, he ran for a touchdown. While he was celebrating in the end zone, though, hoisting the ball high for all to see, an angry State player blind-sided him, wrecking his knee.

In the hospital, Smith got a call from his grandmother, Eula Evans. She, too, was hospitalized, 400 miles away in Albuquerque for stomach cancer. Grandma Evans told Timmy to believe in himself, to believe that everything would get better. Two days later, she died.

Smith waited on NFL draft day for some good news. Secretly, he figured no one would take him because he missed so much college time. The Redskins fooled him, making him the 117th pick of the draft.

Smith hasn't had many chances to celebrate touchdowns, but he hasn't forgotten how. After each of Sunday's scores, he spun the ball like a gyro-top. After the one in the fourth quarter, he did a dance that vaguely resembled the "Super Bowl Twist" performed at halftime by Chubby Checker.

"It's a great feeling, when you finally get that opportunity to shine, when you show everybody you can still get the job done," Smith said. "I'd like to become like Walter Payton or Eric Dickerson or one of those great backs. But mostly, I just don't want to slack up."

One other promise:

No books.

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