Jan. 11, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Lee Smith jumped into NFL consciousness this season, and not just because he leaped into a downright Sunday afternoon sensation a month ago.
The former Marshall tight end is more interested in solid than spectacular as he looks toward a third season in 2013 with the Buffalo Bills. Yet, if what happened after his touchdown catch on Dec. 9 against St. Louis is his 15 seconds – not minutes -- of fame, he’ll gladly live with it.
“To be honest,” Smith said by phone one recent day, “I’m more excited about getting a pancake block in the run game than I am catching a touchdown pass. But if there’s something like that’s tossed your way, you’d better go with the flow.”
Smith would prefer fans would have noticed that he started seven games in his second NFL season and was a solid piece in the Bills’ run game, with starting tight end Scott Chandler being the pass game star.
After playing in 10 games as an NFL rookie in 2011 (with three starts), his opportunities came more often in Year 2.
Smith even had caught his first NFL career TD pass two weeks before he became a truly viral website curiosity, in a loss to Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. His two TD catches in four receptions this season is a percentage a lot of players would like to have.
But on Dec. 9, in the third quarter, the Bills faced second-and-1 at the Rams’ 2 and Smith was on the field in the short-yardage package. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found the former Herd star open in the end zone for a touchdown and a 12-7 lead (the Bills eventually lost, 15-12).
That’s when Smith’s level of notoriety changed, after his first TD at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“After I scored, my buddy, Scott (Chandler) was behind me, and he’s telling me, ‘You need to jump.’ The fans were waving to me, so I figured I’d better jump. I started toward the stands and the closer I got, maybe they realized how big I was.”
Smith was headed for what’s become popular in Green Bay as the “Lambeau Leap.” The difference was this “Buffalo Bounce” – as it’s called – wasn’t like the Packer fans’ warm receptions at Lambeau Field.
Smith didn’t bounce at all.
“I guess if I saw someone my size coming toward them and jumping at them, I’d probably get out of the way, too,” the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Smith said, chuckling at the recollection. “And when I went into the stands, I was stuck down there … Couldn’t get out by myself. Fans were trying to help me out. The security guys finally had to come.”
And then the word started to spread. Smith’s leap to Buffalo football immortality ranks as the most-viewed video clip on the club’s website (buffalobills.com).
“All my buddies have given me a hard time since then,” Smith said. “I pretty much heard about it from anyone I was friends with, there at Marshall, everywhere. They loved it. My family loved it … but I can tell you I’ll never jump into the stands again. I’ll hand the ball to the official like I always did.”
Smith is home in Knoxville, Tenn., for the offseason until April, when the Bills get into OTA (Organized Team Activities). He’ll have a new head coach in Doug Marrone, the former Syracuse University coach and one-time NFL lineman.
Smith said he “appreciated the opportunity” he got from recently fired Chan Gailey, after Smith hastily joined the Bills in Week 1 of the 2011 season (Sept. 5) after being released by New England, which had made the former Herd a fifth-round draft pick that spring.
“No matter who the coach is, you’ve got to go to work and earn a job,” said Smith, who had 75 catches for 791 yards and three touchdowns in his Herd career. “I am who I am as a player. If they like you and you work hard, you stay. If you fit, you’re fine. If you don’t fit, you’re gone.
“My job as a husband, a parent, a father, is to take care of my family and for me, that’s going out and doing my job every day.”
Smith said he had a bit of an advantage over other collegians trying to stick in the NFL in that his late father, Daryle Smith, spent seven NFL seasons as an offensive tackle with Dallas, Cleveland and Philadelphia as well as four seasons in the Canadian Football League.
“Maybe I had a little more knowledge than others, but I still had to learn to be a pro,” Smith said. “Whether you’re a tight end or an offensive lineman or a running back, whatever, you’ve got to show you belong.
“There are 53 spots (on the roster) and you’ve got to show over and over that you should have one of them. It’s not Marshall or any other college. You’re not on the five-year ride. You can’t be complacent. That stuff doesn’t fly at this level.
“Regardless of whether the coach likes you or thinks you’re a great person, you’d better do your job on Sunday. This is a production-based league. If you’re a coach and you don’t win, you’re gone. If you’re a player and you stop doing your job, you’re gone. There’s very little room for error.”
Smith’s comfort zone in his second season was enhanced as he had a chance to settle in at preseason camp after his fit was “a little difficult” in 2011 due to his late arrival in Buffalo. The 2010 All-Conference USA tight end didn’t make his NFL debut in his rookie season until Oct. 2 at Cincinnati. He then was injured (ankle) Dec. 18 at New England, and finished the season on injured reserve.
“This season, I had a better grasp of what to do and I was out there more on Sundays,” he said. “The more things you do great, the more opportunity you get. In the future, I’d hope to be more involved (in the passing game), but my role, at the end of the day, isn’t getting the ball, and that’s fine.”
Smith and his wife, Alisha, have three children – sons Brody (4) and Brock (1), and daughter Amanda (2). The Smiths are expecting a daughter in April, too, and Smith said her name will be Addison.
The former Marshall star said they are the ones he plays for and one day he will show his Buffalo Bounce misfortune to them on YouTube.
“I’m perfectly fine being anonymous,” Smith said. “I’m happy as long as people enjoy the way I’m playing and I’m doing my job. That one time was fun, but whether anybody notices isn’t a big deal.
“I’m just out there trying to keep my job and support my family. That’s what matters to me.”