Football-wise Timmy Smith got a raw deal. Smith set a Super Bowl record for 204 rushing yards – a record that still stands today – back in 1988 and wasn’t named the Most Valuable Player. Nothing against Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who threw four touchdown passes in the win over the Denver Broncos, but a Super Bowl record, set by a rookie at that, Smith got the short end of the stick.
Where did Timmy Smith come from?
Timmy Smith has been a mystery since his record-setting day in Super Bowl XXII when his Washington Redskins soundly defeated the Denver Broncos 42-10 on Jan. 31, 1998. Even during that 1987 season, Smith was a mystery as he played in just seven games for Joe Gibbs and the Redskins, starting none of them.
Smith played college football at Texas Tech, where he only had seven rushing attempts as a senior. Still, the Washington Redskins selected the 5-foot-11, 216-pound running back in the fifth round of the 1987 NFL draft. With George Rogers and Kelvin Bryant already settled in at running back, Smith was expected to be no more than a backup in his rookie season, and that he was.
Smith saw time in just seven games during the 1987 season and carried the ball 29 times for 126 yards for the year. He didn’t score a touchdown. He wasn’t involved in the passing game either, catching one pass for minus-2 yards. However, when the Redskins were to face the Broncos in the biggest game of the year, Super Bowl XXII, someway, somehow, Timmy Smith got the start at running back.
Smith’s breakout game
There are varying reports of how Timmy Smith was told he was going to be the team’s starting running back on the biggest stage in 1988. One report says he was told in a meeting with running backs, while a Sports Illustrated story says Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs wanted veteran quarterback Doug Williams to break the news. “Coach wanted me to break the news to him and calm him down,” Williams recalled in 2016. “I said, ‘Timmy, you’re going to start the Super Bowl,’ and he looked at me like I was crazy. I said if you mess this up, I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Smith did anything but mess up. Making his first start ever in the NFL, Smith helped the Redskins overcome a 10-0 deficit after the first quarter by running 58 yards for a touchdown as the Redskins scored 35 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 35-10 halftime lead. Smith had 138 rushing yards at halftime.
Smith accounted for the lone score in the second half, a 4-yard touchdown run and had broken Marcus Allen’s Super Bowl rushing record, finishing with 204 yards. “I was numb, man,” Smith says. “After that game, I’ve got all these people coming at me, but I wanted to go back on the field. After I got through running over them, I felt like I couldn’t be stopped. Once you get that feeling, it’s unstoppable.” He made his way onto the David Letterman Show and made a few other appearances, but after that Timmy Smith disappeared.
Smith sentenced to prison
Smith started in just nine more NFL games after that, eight with the Washington Redskins and one with the Dallas Cowboys before he was replaced by Emmitt Smith. His career was over as quickly as it began. In May of 2006, Smith, along with his brother, was sentenced to federal prison for a cocaine charge.
“Guys make mistakes,” Smith said in 2016. “It’s all about what you do after that. You try to move on and be a productive citizen. You still have to be a role model. I was an embarrassment to my teammates and my family. I’m a much better person for going through that. You got to build it back. I chose to face my problems by coming out in public and saying: ‘I have nothing to hide.’”
These days, Smith spends his time in the oil fields, testing wells. When he’s not on the road working, he can be found speaking to kids about his time behind bars and telling his story. He said he also frequently speaks with Doug Williams. When he does, “I tell him I should have been the Super Bowl MVP,” Smith said with a laugh.