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Life of a Saint: Will Smith

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The former New Orleans Saints captain is remembered by his family, teammates, coaches and the media.

Super Bowl XLIV - NFC Media Day Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

With such a storied career, it’s hard to pick a favorite memory of Will Smith.

I mean, we are talking about a player who, in college at Ohio State, was a First-Team All American, Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Second and First-Team All-Big Ten in successive years, and an SEC National Champion. When Smith made it to the NFL, he continued his storied career by being a first-round draft pick, a Pro Bowler and, of course, a Super Bowl Champion. Smith retired at #4 on the all-time New Orleans Saints career sack leader board.

The New York native has since been honored as a Saints Hall of Famer and is also a member of the very exclusive New Orleans Saints Ring of Honor.

But to get back to my favorite memory, it would have to be the Tracy Porter interception that cemented the win in Super Bowl XLIV. The play started with Will Smith creating pressure in the same direction that Peyton Manning would ultimately throw the ball. Then, as Porter jumps the route, Smith prematurely puts his arm up in celebration. Porter then points at Manning, asking Smith for a block. Smith obliges and dumps Manning on the ground to help secure the touchdown for Porter. As Porter headed to the end zone, you can see Smith trailing behind him and yelling in celebration with one finger up in the air, knowing at that point he was a Super Bowl Champion.

Life of a Saint: Will Smith

All the highlights, all the statistics, the awards and accolades only tell us of Will Smith, the player. To better understand who Will Smith was, we defer to the people who knew him best: his family, friends, coaches and teammates.

Will Smith’s Family

Simply said for Will Smith, it was family first: husband to Racquel and father to William Joseph, Lisa Mya and Wynter Chase.

And being that family was Smith’s foundation, we’ll start there.

Houston Texans v New Orleans Saints Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Racquel Smith on Will Smith

“There’s so much. He was amazing. I know people know he was amazing, but just knowing him inside and out, I don’ think people really have a taste of my world.”

“As far as a father, he’s so dearly missed. He was an amazing father. That was probably his number one thing in life was his kids. He always spoke with his kids, and every time he spoke with his kids, I would just look at him and see the light in his eyes. They were the apple of his eyes. I would most definitely say he was an amazing father. My kids truly miss him.”

“Of course, for me, he was my best friend. That was pretty hard. I miss my best friend. He was a great husband. He was just amazing.”

“One thing my kids truly miss and the always speak of is he was always grilling. Even the day he passed, he told my daughter before we left to go to Fresh Garden Festival is that he was going to grill for them. He always loved this grill he had outside. He took the ribs out and he was going to make some ribs for my kids. He loved to grill for them and they miss that.”

“The fourth of July is coming up and, of course, that’s his birthday. We would probably be having a lot of family over. He would be grilling out and we would be by the pool, the kids would be enjoying themselves. Will liked to entertain. He was definitely an entertainer. He loved to have family over and that was his greatest joy, seeing everybody else happy.”

“When he did pass, when we got back home, I just remember seeing the ribs he took out were actually molded. It’s just always in my mind like, ‘Dang. We were supposed to come home that night and we would be grilling by the pool with the kids and they’d be excited about it. And we’d probably watch a movie.’ He would always pick a movie for the kids. And that was one thing he loved to do with his children.”

“Also, he loved to travel. People probably knew, but I’ll tell you his goal in life. After he retired, and my kids say this every time we see an RV, ‘Remember Daddy said we were going to buy a big RV and drive around the United States?’ He wanted to show the kids the world. He loved to travel.”

“But his biggest thing was his kids. He did everything for his kids. That was his entire life. Even with playing football. He said he couldn’t care less if his kids played football. He would say, ‘This is what I’m doing it for, so they don’t ever have to pick up a football if they don’t want to.’ He definitely wanted to make sure they had a good education and that they were happy in life.”

Will Smith in College

Smith was a Buckeye to his core, and he made sure everyone around him knew it. Whether it was wearing Ohio State apparel or playfully jawing with a teammate who played for a Buckeye rival in their college days, Smith wore his college experience like a badge of honor. Ohio State had an incredible impact on Will Smith. But that impact was reciprocal as Smith made his mark on the university as well, both on the field and off.

Will Smith celebrates Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Jim Tressel on Will Smith

“So excited that you are doing an article on Will Smith … his Impact at Ohio State was amazing …. As we arrived as a new staff in 2001, he was one of the first guys to embrace our vision and he was all in with no proof, just faith. The first year was rocky (7-5) but Will did not waiver.”

“In 2002 Will Smith emerged as a tremendous leader and as one of the finest defensive football players in America leading us to the BCS National Championship and a 14-0 record. Everyone assumed he would enter the NFL Draft. However, he had promised his grandmother that he would finish his degree, and he opted to remain for his Senior year.”

“In 2003 we narrowly missed out on another trip to the BCS title game …. On the first day of practice for the Fiesta Bowl, Will stood up in front of the team and let them know that he was not leaving Ohio State without a win in the Fiesta Bowl, and each of them better prepare with that thought in mind. He led by example, despite the fact that he was ultimately going to be a First Round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft, he prepared as if there was nothing more important in the world than that game …. He led us to a victory, and in my mind was one of the greatest impact players in Ohio State football history.”

AJ Hawk on Will Smith

“Will was already an established super star when I arrived on campus at Ohio State. I noticed early on that he would go out of his way to invite us young guys to hang with the veterans all the time. He made my time special, and I know a lot of my teammates agree. I learned what a true leader looks like during my time playing with Will Smith.”

Will Smith as a New Orleans Saint

Will Smith played every down of his NFL career in New Orleans. As a first-round selection, Smith was expected to make an impact. Smith took that honor seriously and went above and beyond the expectations of simple defensive production. Smith developed himself into a great friend, a mentor and a leader within the organization. Smith would earn the honor of becoming a captain for the Saints. And like his time at Ohio State, Smith’s impact went beyond the field in New Orleans.

Roman Harper on Will Smith

“I was always a big fan of Will Smith. From the moment I met him. His New York swagger, his Ohio State confidence, and his unique ability to win every disagreement with teammates whether he is actually right or wrong. Yet, in his mind he was always right ‍♂️ I will always be forever indebted to him because my rookie year he introduced me to “the finer things” which was the correct way to sip on a great tasting, smooth, full-bodied red wine!!!”

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Charles Grant on Will Smith

“My greatest memory of Will Smith was when he first got to the Saints after being drafted. A guy that loved everything about Ohio State and nothing was better than New York. He was a young man of principle and loved his family and teammates. We shared a lot of time together earlier in his career, like trips to the Bahamas, Vegas and a lot of other spots. He was a student of the game and a great team mate.”

Jed Collins on Will Smith

“Will was the type of leader that made you earn his trust. But once you did, he treated you like family.”

Joe Horn on Will Smith

“When Will first came in as a rookie, when I went out, I never split up guys by position. I went out with DB’s. I went out with offensive linemen. I went out with all the guys when they went to eat. When the players used to go out to eat in groups, I had so much love for my whole defense, I would go out when they went out sometimes. I think the relationship with me and Will started that way. He knew the love I had for the team.”

“Something I’ll never forget happened after I left the Saints, after I retired from the NFL. The Saints had won a Super Bowl. I went to New Orleans and one night I decided to go out. I don’t go out much, but I decided to go get a drink or something at a club that all the players used to go to. I debated if I should even go or not because I didn’t want to be in their shine. They had won their Super Bowl. It was the next year later and I didn’t want to go out and be amongst the crowd and be in their shine. Well, when the players were going through, they had a VIP section set up in the front. I left the club. There weren’t too many people there and I just didn’t feel comfortable there. A limo or two rolled up and I knew how the players used to do it. They come in with their entourage and the limos. I moved to the side so no one could really see me. I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted these guys to enjoy themselves and the spotlight to be on them. Cameras were around and all that stuff.”

“When Will Smith came through with his wife and his entourage, Will Smith took a veer to the left. When he took a veer to the left, he came up to me and found me out of the crowd and hugged me and told me he loved me and that he’ll never forget. That right there let me know that Will Smith was a real person; that he cared about who cared for him.

There are so many memories, but that’s one memory I’ll never forget. He showed me, ‘Regardless that you’re retired Joe, I remember what you did for this team and I remember what you did for me and I’ll never forget it.’ That day, people were there for him and I was off to the side of the crowd. I was just a regular guy in the crowd. He made his wife and the limo driver wait when he hugged me and told me he’d never forget. That made my entire year.”

“That’s what it’s about. When you play football and you leave the city, who remembers what you did at the time when you were there? Will showed me that I was still loved by him doing that for me that night.”

Jonathan Goodwin on Will Smith

“Will was a great guy. He was a competitor. He was also a talker. He was one of those guys that could talk your head off about any subject that he felt passionate about. He was always trying to hit me up for the Michigan / Ohio State bets. He ended up becoming somebody I could talk to anytime. He was someone I would call a good friend.”

“We miss him dearly. There’s nothing bad I could ever say about Will Smith. Unfortunately, he’s not here with us anymore, but his memory lives on. He is definitely a guy that made the most of his time here.”

Marques Colston on Will Smith

“There were so many conversations that we had just chillin’ in the sauna after practice. We both spent a lot of time in there, especially going into those later days. He was about as buttoned up as you could get. He was a hell of a football player, obviously. He was a guy that could get other leaders and other men to follow his lead. He was a New York guy, and we connected around that. Him being from New York, it’s a different mindset, a different mentality. I went to school in New York, so I got a chance to really understand a New Yorker’s perspective. So, being two northeast guys in the south, we were able to connect around that.

He was a guy I looked up to a lot, not only for the way he played on the field, the way he led, but also the way he was a man of business and a man of community.”

Wild Card Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Boo Williams on Will Smith

“My fondest memory of Will is being in the locker room and just laughing, joking and having a good time. We always used to joke about Arkansas being better than Ohio State or Ohio State was better than Arkansas. We always carried that college rivalry bond even though we never played against each other. We wish we would have played against each other.”

“Will was just a guy that was up-spirit, always. He was a happy guy. He would give you the shirt off his back and definitely help anybody. He was a great friend of mine and I’m glad that the Saints honor him. He was a great guy, a great teammate, fun to be around and it’s just so sad that his life had to end short. He is definitely going to be missed by the family; missed by his own family and missed by his New Orleans Saints family.”

“So, my favorite and fondest memories of Will Smith are just always being upbeat in the locker room and always being a stand-up guy. I was happy to play with him for several years.”

Will Smith with the Media

Will Smith had a special relationship with the media. Always a professional, Smith made himself available - whether the questions were directly after a celebration, a loss or even a controversy. Smith would not only interact with media in the locker room, but also extended that relationship outside the stadium and even into the charity work he did.

Larry Holder on Will Smith

An excerpt from Holder’s Nola.com article from April 10, 2016:

I chronicled Smith’s (Bountygate) appeal, from the steps of the NFL offices in New York to a hearing in Washington, D.C. He’d crack a smile every time we saw each other, jokingly saying, “What are you doing here?”

Back at the Saints’ facility, I would approach Smith to ask him questions about the ongoing scandal. He would look down and shake his head about the situation, knowing what was coming, but would still be a professional and answer questions. Eventually former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated all of the punishments for the players, including Smith’s four-game suspension.

A couple of scribes and I just happened to run into Smith on that Tuesday night. He gave me the same grin he would typically send my way while walking into those bounty hearings.

“What are you doing here?”

I responded, “The same thing as you.”

He unleashed a bellowing laugh and pulled me in for a hug. I bought him an adult beverage of his choice as a peace offering for all my pestering and prodding during the bounty scandal. He said there was no need to apologize.

The rest of the banter was devoid of bounty talk and about nothing particularly important. Everyone, including Smith, simply relished the evening with the sweet sounds of “Casanova” and “Do Whacha Wanna” blaring from Rebirth’s horns.

Holder’s original article: https://www.nola.com/sports/saints/article_c55b888c-0bf6-5879-bbba-b1385bd929d7.html

Mike Triplett on Will Smith

“One thing that really stood out to me about Will Smith was the respect level he earned from Sean Payton, Drew Brees and everyone that arrived in 2006. Remember, Smith was one of the few holdovers from before 2006, when Payton and Brees and that loaded draft class came in and the team was really overhauled from top to bottom. But Payton always credited Smith for being a leader that he counted on during that transition and all the way through the Super Bowl. He was planning to bring Smith back as an entry-level coaching assistant the year that Smith was killed.”

An excerpt from Triplett’s ESPN.com article from April 10, 2016:

“The greatest era in New Orleans Saints was defined by offense, by the glamour guys, by Drew Brees and Sean Payton and Reggie Bush.

But none of it happens without Will Smith.

The Saints probably don’t win their first Super Bowl in 2009 without Smith’s career-high 13 sacks that year. And they sure as heck don’t reach their first NFC Championship Game in 2006, just one year removed from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and a 3-13 season.

Smith made the Pro Bowl during that 2006 season with 10.5 sacks. Payton, in his first season as coach, counted on Smith as a leader on and off the field to help that transition from one era to the next.”

From just a football standpoint, one area where I always thought Smith was underrated was his strength and power. He was never an elite speed rusher, and he had only two double-digit sack seasons. But, man, did he make opposing offensive linemen work for it. I love to watch the 1-on-1 pass-rush drills during training camp. And a lot of the pass rushers try a speed move or spin move, and when it doesn’t work they’re out of the play and it’s over. Smith, however, was a bull rusher who would usually try to power right through guys. And even when he didn’t reach the QB, he made the offensive lineman fight him the whole time and often pushed back the pocket. I used to talk to the offensive tackles he faced about that, and they agreed.

Triplett’s original article: https://www.espn.com/blog/new-orleans-saints/post/_/id/21528/new-orleans-saints-greatest-era-not-possible-without-underrated-pillar-will-smith

Scott Walker on Will Smith

“I knew Will from Saints on 6 coverage. He was always jovial and kind. He would sit and watch football with people in the newsroom. Will was a good guy. He was always a pro. I also knew him from his Celebrity Waiter event at Bridge House. I emceed the event a few times. He cared deeply about that.”

Will Smith on Will Smith

This message Smith penned in 2011, was printed on the back of the program from his funeral service at the Saenger. It was titled, “A Love Letter from Will”. (Special thanks to Larry Holder for sharing.)

A Love Letter from Will

“When I die, I don’t want people to cry. I lived a wonderful life. I was very gifted with a great family, lovely kids and a great wife, who puts up with my BS!!! I have no regrets. I want my kids to grow up to be whoever they want to be. I don’t want you to dictate your life based on what society says is right. We all create our right and wrong.”

Rest Easy, Will.

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