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Jerry Smith

Jerry Smith
Tight End
Eugene, Oregon
July 19, 1943
208 lbs
Arizona State
NFL Career
13 seasons, 168 games
Washington 1965-1977


Career Highlights

• Two time Pro Bowl selection (1967, 1969)
• First Team All Pro (1969)
• Second Team All Pro (1967)
• Named to the Washington Ring of Fame
• Named one of the 80 Greatest Redskins
• Named to the College Football Hall of Fame

Trailblazing Tight End

Jerry Smith played as a tight end in the National Football League for thirteen seasons. All of them as a member of the Washington Redskins.

He was born on July 19, 1943, in Eugene, Oregon.

Smith sttended Arizona State University, but did not play football until his Junior season. He joined the team as a walk on in 1964 and played wide receiver. He caught 9 passes for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns in 9 games.

He converted to a tight end the following season, and caught 42 passes for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Redskins Career

After graduating from Arizona State, Washington selected him in the ninth round – 118th overall – of the 1965 NFL Draft. He was also drafted in the 18th round of the 1965 AFL Draft.

Smith would play for the Redskins from 1965 to 1977, and would become one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history.

Smith’s best year came in 1967, when he caught 67 passes for 849 yards and 12 touchdowns. He helped lead the team to a division title that season, and he was named to the All-Pro team for the first time in his career. He was also selected for the Pro Bowl.

He had another outstanding season in 1969, catching 56 passes for 849 yards and 9 touchdowns and earning his second Pro Bowl selection and also a First Team All pro selection.

On the field, Smith was known for his exceptional receiving skills and his ability to score touchdowns. He was one of the first tight ends in NFL history to be used as a primary receiver, rather than simply as a blocker.

Record Breaker

Over the course of his career, Smith played in 168 games and started 134 of them. He caught 421 passes for 5,496 yards and 60 touchdowns.

Ultimately, those 60 touchdowns were the eighth-most receiving touchdowns in NFL history at the time of his retirement. Moreover it was the single most ever for a tight end and still stands as the 17th most in NFL history.

That record for tight ends stood for 27 years. It was eventually beaten by Shannon Sharpe in 2003.

In 2013, Smith was inducted into the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame, and in 2020, he was inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame.


In 1976, journalist Lynn Rosellini of the Washington Star approached Smith about a piece she was doing about gay people in sports. Smith agreed to contribute on the grounds that his name, team and position were not mentioned. In her article, she described Smith’s “hands” and it has been said that his team mate Dave Kopay figured out who Rosellini was talking about.

Kopay would come out himself in 1972, after his football career was over. He talked about a sexual encounter with Smith in his autobiography but kept Smith’s name out of the story. Regardless, Smith never spoke to Kopay again after the book was released.

Unfortunately Smith would die of AIDS in 1986 at the age of just 43 years old. He was the first former professional athlete to succumb to the disease.

After Death

It’s worth noting that while Smith was not publicly out as a gay man during his playing career, he has been recognized as a pioneer and a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ athletes in professional sports. His impact on the sport and on society as a whole has been recognized by many organizations and individuals in the years since his death.

Many years later, team mate Brig Owens said that Smith lived in fear because he believed that if people found out that he as gay, his football career would be over. Owens was known to be Smith’s best friend on the team.

Center Len Hauss was a close friend as well. One time a Redskin player made what was likely a gay slur about Smith, and Hauss made it clear that the word was not to ever be used in the locker room again. And apparently it never was.

In 2014, the NFL Network ran a show called A Football Life: Jerry Smith. It detailed Smith’s career and his death from AIDS. There were interviews with Brig Owens intertwined with the show itself. Owens was asked if Smith belonged in the Hall of Fame. Owens stated emphatically that Smith would already be in the Hall of Fame if he wasn’t gay.

Tough Picks Jerry Smith

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