WOODWARD, Pa. (AP) - Twenty years after Steve Smith helped Penn State
win the 1986 national title, the former fullback is fighting for his
Smith's body is failing him, ravaged by Lou Gehrig's disease.
Former college teammates are coming together to help the former Nittany
Lions captain, who went on to play for the Oakland Raiders.
''You talk to Marcus Allen, you talk to Bo Jackson, or any running
back that had him as a fullback, you never had to worry,'' former
Penn State teammate D.J. Dozier said. ''This man had his block.
Whatever he needed to do, he was going to get it done.''
Smith was one of four captains on the 1986 team - the last squad to
win coach Joe Paterno a national championship. College buddies use
words such as ''team player'' and ''led by example'' to
describe his style.
That's why the three other captains from that squad - quarterback
John Shaffer, linebacker and Frewsburg native Shane Conlan and
defensive lineman Bob White - traveled to a lodge in rural Woodward
one recent morning to sign a lithograph depicting a scene from the
tense 14-10 win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl that secured Penn
State's 1986 title.
Dozier, who ran behind Smith's blocks, organized the effort. He says
a portion of the profits will go to Smith's family to help pay
''He was a hard, hard worker,'' Shaffer said of Smith. ''He
was unbelievably talented, able to do whatever needed to help the team
Now Smith needs help to take care of his most basic needs.
Lou Gehrig's disease is a degenerative nerve disease, also known as
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which gradually destroys the
ability to control movement. Typically, patients lose their ability to
move or speak, but their minds remain unaffected.
According to the federal National Institutes of Health, most ALS
patients die from respiratory failure within 5 years of the onset of
symptoms, though about 10 percent of ALS patients survive 10 years or
Reliant on a ventilator, Smith cannot talk. He has been fed formula
through a feeding tube since May. He can't leave home, given all the
''Despite the situation, he's holding steady,'' said his
wife, Chie Smith, who was reached at the couple's home in Richardson,
''His spirits are much better than his body is,'' she said.
Smith pounded away at opposing defenses while at Penn State from
1983-86, running for 1,246 yards and 11 touchdowns. Fullbacks back then
ran the ball more often than in today's multiple receiver-focused
''It was a great tandem on the field,'' Dozier said.
Pro scouts noticed. The Raiders drafted him in the third round of the
1987 draft and he spent much of his time in silver and black blocking
for the talented tailback tandem of Allen and Jackson.
Chie, then an Oakland Raiders cheerleader, noticed Steve, too. They
fell in love and got married on Dec. 8, 1989.
Smith moved to Seattle in 1994, where he played two seasons for the
Seahawks before a back injury cut short his career, and he retired in
the summer of 1996.
His forte was blocking, though Smith ended his NFL career with 1,627
yards and nine touchdowns on 429 carries. He also caught 131 passes for
1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns.
''It was always fun going up against him,'' said Conlan, a Penn
State linebacker who played for the Buffalo Bills. ''He was always
trying to get better.''
Smith's first diagnosis came in July 2002. A second opinion a month
later, and a finally a third opinion _ on Sept. 11, 2002 _ confirmed
their initial fears: He had Lou Gehrig's disease.
Weighing 260 pounds at the time of his initial ALS diagnosis, Smith had
lost 100 pounds by this past May. Chie Smith said there was concern her
husband wasn't getting enough nutrition, so he was put on a feeding
tube, from which most of his nutrition now comes. That has helped, and
Smith has regained 15 pounds.
His days are spent on a recliner or on a hospital bed at the house.
''Pretty much, the word would be he is 'paralyzed' from
illness,'' Chie Smith said.
Smith's wife cares for him full time. There are also two teenage
children to raise _ 16-year-old Dante and 15-year-old Jazmin _ and ALS
groups have said it takes as much as $250,000 a year to care for a
Dozier, a partner in the Cambridge Sports marketing company he helped
start in March, was approached by others at the firm to take part in a
project to create artwork to remember the 1986 season. He soon got to
thinking the venture could help Smith. A percentage of profits from the
$399 lithographs will go to the former fullback.
One thing hasn't changed - Smith's smile. Chie is sure her
husband's mind is alive and well, even if he cannot speak. He still
follows Penn State football.
''He watches them all,'' Chie Smith said. ''I can usually
just tell from his expressions, watching him enjoying the game.''
David E. Garnett
iAM Solutions, LLC
703.926-9134 - mobile