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View from the O-Zone: For Smith, a well-deserved honor


JACKSONVILLE – That wall up there in the 'Bank is going to feel a lot more complete soon.

That's because Jimmy Smith, the best wide receiver in Jaguars history and a player who helped define the Jaguars' first decade, is going into the Pride of the Jaguars.

As he should. As he must. And good for him.

December 11, 2016 is going to be a cool day. Very cool. That's the day Smith will become the sixth person in the Pride, and while it's never fair to call something like the Pride "incomplete," make no mistake:

The Pride indeed will be a lot more complete in December.

Tony Boselli. Fred Taylor. Mark Brunell. Wayne and Delores Weaver.

Those are the five in the Pride. On various levels and to various degrees, those players defined the teams that made four consecutive playoff appearances, won two AFC Central titles and appeared in two AFC Championship Games.

That era wouldn't have happened without Smith, either.

In fact, to mention Boselli, Taylor and Brunell and not mention Smith is to omit a player every bit as good -- and perhaps better – than the first three.

Yes, Smith was that good.

Yes, he was that important to those teams.

Yes, he is that deserving of the honor he will receive in December when the Jaguars play host to the Minnesota Vikings.

His story is that good, too – and worth repeating. Smith was a second-round selection out of Jackson State in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He was a strong, fast kid with talent, but played just seven games in two seasons with the Cowboys.

He nearly died from an infection following an emergency appendectomy in August 1993, and didn't play that season. The Cowboys released him in July 1994. The Eagles released him the following month.

He spent 1994 out of the NFL, and signed with the expansion Jaguars on February 28, 1995, after his mother sent then-Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin a book of Smith's press clippings.

He led the team in kickoff returns in 1995. And perhaps it's fitting that Smith will be inducted into the Pride this season, because it was 1996 – 20 seasons ago – that Smith truly began reaching his potential.

He actually did a lot more than reach it.

Smith began the 1996 season as the team's third receiver behind Keenan McCardell and Andre Rison, but you could see the potential. The size. The speed. The play-making ability. He was maturing fast. He moved into the starting lineup following Rison's November release and finished the season leading the AFC in receiving yards with 1,244.

Smith had more than 1,000 yards receiving in nine of 10 seasons from 1996-2005, had more than 1,200 yards receiving four times and was just plain dominant in 1999 when he finished with 1,636 yards receiving.

That's averaging 100 yards a game, something that only has been done 19 other times in NFL history. That was a season for the ages, and Smith followed it with a game for the ages the following September.

That came in Baltimore, a 39-36 Jaguars loss that in retrospect help signal the end of the Jaguars early run of success and the beginning of the Ravens' run to that year's Super Bowl. Smith that day caught 15 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns, a stunning performance against a defense many consider one of the best two or three in NFL history. It remains the sixth-most receiving yards in an NFL game.

You can't tell Smith's story without mentioning the off-field issues, and they were real. He was arrested on drug charges in 2009 and served prison time in 2013. Those are parts of Smith's story and undoubtedly helped delay this induction into the Pride of the Jaguars.

But they're not Smith's entire story, and they don't overshadow what Smith was to this franchise and why he will be honored in December.

He not only was the best wide receiver in franchise history, he was a player many defensive backs of his era considered second only to Jerry Rice, now and then by far the best ever to play his position.

You couldn't bump Smith at the line of scrimmage; too strong. You couldn't cover him deep; too strong, too good with his body with the ball in the air, too fast.

Smith finished his career with 862 receptions for 12,287 yards and 69 touchdowns. At the time, the receptions were seventh in NFL history and the yards were 11th. He remains 21st in league history in receiving yards and 23rd in receptions.

Smith was a Hall of Fame talent. He had a Hall-of-Fame career. He should get in, and whether he will or is a story and debate for another day.

The story for today is that Smith will go on the wall in December. At last.

As he should. As he must. Good for him.

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