Playing most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Jackie Smith fashioned a career worthy of inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In the four decades since the conclusion of his 16-year NFL career, the former Northwestern State standout has authored an off-the-field resume equally worthy of acclaim, which again will come Smith’s way next week when the St. Andrew’s Charitable Foundation honors him with one of its Ageless and Remarkable St. Louisans award at its annual gala Oct. 19.
Smith spent 15 of his 16 seasons with the Cardinals, becoming embedded in the St. Louis community. Although the franchise moved to Phoenix following the 1987 NFL season, neither Smith’s involvement nor his name recognition has faded.
As such, Smith is one of 11 St. Andrews honorees who will be feted as “awe-inspiring individuals” who are “proof that, at any age, we can make a difference in our community and the lives of others.”
Smith’s 15 playing seasons, which included five straight Pro Bowl selections from 1966-70, left an impact on him and on the St. Louis community.
“There is a lot of (player) movement now,” Smith said. “When I was playing, you didn’t have a chance to do that. Consequently, all my children were born here and were raised here and have a strong connection here. They married people from here. This is our home. My only regret is I don’t get to come down to Louisiana very much anymore, especially with this project. St. Louis has been a great place to raise a family, and I’m glad to be here.”
That project is the Missouri National Veterans Memorial, which is located in Perryville, Missouri, approximately an hour’s drive south of St. Louis along Interstate 55.
Smith was driving back to St. Louis from Perryville while discussing the project, which includes a permanent full-scale black granite model of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial identical to the one in Washington, D.C.
Smith has worked alongside fellow NFL Hall of Famers Dan Dierdorf and Roger Staubach as well as Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker to raise awareness and funds for the project, which began with a $2.5 million donation and a land offering from Jim and Charlene Eddleman.
“Jim Eddleman wanted to do something for the brothers he lost 50 years ago,” Smith said. “He put $2.5 million into that and gave the land. Mr. Eddleman lives on a farm adjacent to here. He has a beat-up pickup truck that takes forever to crank, and his wife is a cleaning lady, and they put $2.5 million in this. He’s a great guy. His heart’s in the right place. He doesn’t look for attention. It’s rare to get around a guy like that.”
Smith’s largesse did not surprise Northwestern State Director of Athletics Greg Burke, whose 24 years in charge have been built around the cornerstones of community service, personal responsibility and athletic success.
Said Burke: “The ‘Victorious for Life’ student-athlete leadership development program, which was initiated over a decade ago, represents the epitome of how Jackie Smith has carried himself on and off the field throughout his professional and personal life. Everyone at NSU continues to be proud of how well Jackie represents his alma mater. He is a true ‘Hall of Famer’ in every sense of the word and is to be commended for this most recent honor.”
Smith’s celebrity status has helped the Missouri National Veterans Memorial gain exposure and raise funds for its expanding campus.
His tireless work advocating for the campus as well as his years of service to the St. Louis community led Smith, 79, to the St. Andrews honor, which is presented to St. Louisans age 75 or older.
“A lot of the people know me because I stuck around so long,” said Smith, a 1980 N-Club Hall of Fame and 1983 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee who lettered in football and track at Northwestern State. “I played here 15 years when the average life span is two years. During that period of time, I got to know a lot of people and go involved. I’m very delighted to be able to be involved in something like this.
“I appreciate the acknowledgement, but the reason I’m doing it is the opportunity. They probably asked me because I have some name identification, so it’s easier to get the word out. I don’t mind it at all. I’m not saying I’m such a great, great guy. It’s something I think anybody would do if they have the time and the opportunity.”