Jimmy Smith was a second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1992, and in the summer of 1995 he was a year out of football and desperate to win a job with the expansion Jaguars.
"Very desperate; low on money, a baby on the way," Smith said of his recollections of that inaugural season.
Now, Smith is one of the game's best receivers. He has four Pro Bowls behind him and a big-money contract that makes the rest of his life secure in terms of football and financial satisfaction.
All of that success can be traced back to an afternoon in Pittsburgh, on Oct. 29 of '95, in Three Rivers Stadium. On that day, in the ninth game of the Jaguars' inaugural season, Smith made his first professional football pass reception.
It was a harmless, five-yard catch, but it gave birth to a great career. He would catch four passes for 54 yards that day, caught seven passes for 79 yards against the Colts five weeks later, and finished the season with 22 catches for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
They are meager statistics by Smith's standards, but they represent the first seven games of a consecutive-games-having-caught-a-pass streak that reached 86 games this past season. On Dec. 23, 2000, in the Jaguars' regular-season finale, Smith failed to catch at least one pass in a game for the first time since the eighth week of the '95 season.
Three Rivers Stadium is gone, but Jimmy Smith lives on.
"I was finally getting my chance to play in the NFL. Guys drafted the same year I was, like Carl Pickens, had established careers," Smith said.
Smith's career had been derailed by an emergency appendectomy and a broken leg in Dallas. He was cut by the Eagles, was out of football in '94, then landed in the Jaguars' training camp for one last try at the NFL.
The rigors of the Jaguars' first-ever training camp, in Stephens Point, Wis., are well-documented, but Smith had already been through the football ringer. "I felt like I had already been through the worst," Smith said.
Through the first eight games of the '95 season, Smith was a special teams player. It kept him on the roster, and that was good enough for him.
Then, in the second half of the season, he started catching passes, and in Denver in the 13th game of the season, Smith married his receiving and special teams skills to produce one of professional football's landmark performances. He scored touchdowns three different ways: a pass reception, a recovery of a blocked punt, and a kickoff return.
"I remember talking to my agent after that game and he said it looks like you've solidified a spot on that team for next year. For me, it was like we had won the Super Bowl," Smith said.
"It was just a matter of getting an opportunity. I was happy to have made the team and I was playing special teams. As far as playing receiver, I was just waiting for my chance," he added.
When that opportunity presented itself, Smith seized it with both hands.