A recent article by Paul Brown in the Ladue News inspired me to write about Jackie Smith.
Jackie Smith was one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the position. In fact, some would say that he invented the position. During his career, he was one of the most prolific receivers in football. When he first retired, he had been in five straight Pro Bowls.
I still remember him running through a half dozen players after catching a pass on about the 20-yard line. He simply refused to be brought down. Finally, with his last gasp of effort, he fell into the end zone. That’s just one vivid memory. There are many, many highlights like this from his career.
He played 15 seasons for the mostly miserable St. Louis Cardinals football team. After he retired, Smith was brought out of retirement by legendary coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in 1978. He was a key player for the Dallas Cowboys on their run to the Super Bowl. However, in the Super Bowl, Smith was unable to catch a pass that would have allowed the Cowboys to extend their lead. Ultimately the Cowboys lost the game to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Many people – especially in Dallas – remember Jackie Smith, not for his great career, but for his inability to make a catch that “cost” his team the Super Bowl.
I put cost in quotation marks because, in a team sport, no one wins a game by themselves or loses a game by themselves. But our culture is focused on winners and losers. The sportswriters and commentators must have someone to blame for defeat or praise for victory.
What is unfortunate is that a hugely successful career has been ignored due to an inability to catch a single pass. Even more unfortunate is that a wonderful and successful life is ignored by those who define a life by a moment.
Smith is an energetic and dynamic man. Paul Brown’s article makes a point that players should not be judged only by what they did on the field. The writer suggests that players are thinking people, individuals with lives. Character and family are much better measures of a lifetime.
While more evident with a football star, we tend to wrongly define a person by what they do rather than who they are. Being a loving spouse, a good parent, and a caring neighbor often seem to be overshadowed by the question, “What do you do for a living?”
Our society is focused on accomplishments. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is no substitute for what is ultimately important. Job success only lasts until the employer doesn’t need you. A comfortable lifestyle can be taken away in an instant. Material wealth must be left behind. Good health can be a fleeting blessing.
There is an old phrase that suggests that you should be nice to your children because they will likely pick out your nursing home. While not a particularly favorable element of life, that phrase gets to the point.
As we move on through life, it is our ability to love and care for others that truly makes us human. Success in any field is much less important than contributing to the lives of our family, our friends, and others. Pouring into the lives of others is important to leading a good and rewarding life. Loneliness is the reward for selfishness. The classic example of this is Charles Dickens’ character, Ebenezer Scrooge. On the other hand, a rich and endearing life is the reward for a life that is lived with a focus on helping and caring for others.
In Paul Brown’s article, he shares how a 9-year-old boy sat waiting on a hallway bench after a Cardinal game for Jackie Smith – his hero – to say hello to him. When Smith came down the hallway, he stopped, picked up the boy and lifted him high above his head. That boy was Paul Brown. Fast-forward 40 years later when a bored 7-year-old girl sat waiting with her parents in the Fox 2 newsroom. Jackie Smith was there on business but, when he saw the child, he lifted her high above his head. She had the same thrill as her father did 40 years before.
Pour into people’s lives. Family and friends most importantly, but look also for ways to pour into the lives of those around you. In giving to others, we make ourselves whole, and we also leave our mark on the world around us. Ultimately, it is what makes us uniquely human.