Bruce Smith wore No. 78 for the Buffalo Bills en route to a Hall of Fame career with the team. The Bills will now formally acknowledge Smith’s greatness with the retirement of No. 78 at halftime of their home opener against the New York Jets on September 15.
The No. 78 has unofficially been off-limits for some time now. Smith’s jersey number hasn’t been worn since he left Buffalo after the 1999 season, reports Mike Rodak at ESPN.
Widely considered the greatest player in Buffalo Bills’ history, Bruce Smith is the all-time NFL leader in sacks with 200 total. Although there have been some great players to pass through Buffalo, including Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, there can be no argument that Smith is the greatest defensive player in Bills’ history.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) May 11, 2016
Jim Kelly is the only other Buffalo Bills player to have his jersey number retired. In 2001, the Bills retired No. 12 in honor of Kelly, who guided Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls.
Buffalo Bills’ president Russ Brandon recently released a statement regarding the jersey number retirement for Bruce Smith, as reported by ESPN.
“On behalf of Terry and Kim Pegula and the entire Bills organization, we feel this is a tremendous opportunity to honor Bruce and his Hall of Fame career. We believe it’s going to be a great night for Bruce, his family and Bills fans everywhere.”
Since Kelly had his number retired in 2001 and Smith has not played since the 2003 season, it is curious that the Bills have waited until 2016 to retire Bruce’s jersey No. 78. It may have something to do with the fact that Smith left Buffalo after the 1999 NFL season to play four more seasons with the Washington Redskins.
If he had remained with the Bills throughout his entire career, chances are that his No. 78 would have been retired much earlier. When Buffalo felt squeezed by the salary cap in 2000, they offered Smith about half of the $4.6 million he was ready to make before he went into the free agent market. Smith always intended to retire as a Buffalo Bill, but the market dictated another outcome. As quoted by CBS News back in 2000, Bruce made it clear that he was not excited to leave Buffalo in order to continue his NFL career.
“It’s a sad day, a very sad day. I thought I would have finished my career in Buffalo and had an opportunity to go back and win a championship in Buffalo.”
In any case, it is another feather in the cap for Smith, who becomes just the second player on the team to have their number retired.
Bruce Smith will become the second player to have his jersey retired by the Bills.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) May 11, 2016
Among Bruce Smith’s other accolades, he is a 2009 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a two-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1996), an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, and an eight-time first-team All-Pro.
Smith was the number one overall draft pick by the Buffalo Bills in 1985 out of Virginia Tech. According to Pro-Football-Reference, he started in 13 of 16 games as a rookie, recording 6.5 sacks in that first season. In his second season with Buffalo, Bruce increased his sack total to 15 while starting in 15 of 16 games. He was then on his way to becoming recognized as one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
Smith’s finest regular season may have come in 1990, when Bruce recorded a hefty 19 sacks along with 101 “official” tackles. The 19 sacks were only three less than the NFL record at the time of 22.
In all but three of Smith’s 15 seasons in Buffalo, he recorded double-digits in sacks. Those three seasons were his rookie season in 1985, when a knee injury forced him to miss most of 1991, and his final season with the Bills in 1999.
[Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]