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Jimmy Smith knows all about adverse times


The hot dog wrappers in Alltel Stadium hadn't even been cleaned up, yet, and fans still were filing out of the parking lots, but national and local columnists already were shoveling dirt on the Jaguars after a 24-13 home loss to the previously winless Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The Jaguars' season is over," wrote one.

"If this isn't a football team at rock bottom, it's certainly close enough [for] counseling," wrote another.

Indeed, things are not upbeat at the moment in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are headed for their first below-.500 season since 1995.

Pardon Jimmy Smith if he just rolls his eyes at such pronouncements of doom. That's because Smith has been there before. He played on a Jaguars team four years ago (in fact, he's the only non-kicker to play in all of the franchise's regular-season and postseason games) that was 4-7 after 11 games, but won seven straight to reach the AFC title game.

Beyond that, he's battled a career full of adversity to get to where he is today.

"The biggest obstacle in my career was making an NFL team," he says.

While with Dallas in 1992, his rookie season out of Jackson State, Smith broke his leg in training camp and missed the first five weeks of the regular season. He played in seven games during the regular season, but didn't catch a pass. The next year, he was enjoying an outstanding preseason when he underwent an emergency appendectomy and was placed on the reserve list.

The Cowboys waived Smith the following summer, but he caught on in Philadelphia, where he appeared to make the team with another excellent preseason. Then the Eagles released him one day after the final cuts, and he was out of football for another year.

Finally, in February of '95, the expansion Jaguars called, and Smith's career was re-born. He's played in three Pro Bowls since, has more receiving yards than any other NFL player since 1996, and is widely recognized as one of the best receivers in the game.

"In my opinion, Jimmy is the best," Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell says.

Smith's performance the first time the Jaguars and Ravens played this season might have convinced some others, as well. He caught 15 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns in the week two game. His yardage total was the fifth-best single-game performance in NFL history, and the touchdowns were a club receiving record. It wasn't enough, though, to fend off Baltimore's wild, 39-36 victory.

"Stats are good, but they don't matter when you're not winning ballgames," Smith said.

The words are cliche, but coming from Smith, they sound sincere. He never has been the type of player who puts personal goals before the team's, and he doesn't actively seek the spotlight.

"Really, I don't want all that attention," Smith said. "It's a big distraction. I just like to quietly go out and take care of business on the field."

That means anything from catching 359 passes for 5,386 yards over the past four seasons, to tutoring young players such as rookie wide receiver R. Jay Soward. When Soward was battling for the third wide receiver spot in training camp, Smith gave the first-round draft choice a positive role model. Smith and Keenan McCardell "helped keep R. Jay grounded, and they also knew when to pick him up," Jaguars wide receivers coach John McNulty says.

Smith may have needed some picking up during the frustrating early years of his career, but he has since put the experience into perspective.

"I look at it as a positive," Smith says. "I didn't take the pounding and the beating on my body for the first three years of my career. Hopefully, I can pick up those years at the end of my career. I'm 31 years old, but my body feels like I'm twenty-seven or twenty-eight."

That means he could have several good seasons to come. Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin takes a look at Smith's rapid development over the past five seasons and agrees.

"I think his best football is in front of him," Coughlin says.

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