JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (May 11, 2006) -- Jimmy Smith cleared his throat, finished his sentence and then bowed his head and started to cry.
One of the most prolific receivers in NFL history, Smith found himself in another rough spot. But just as he has done so many times before in his career, he regrouped and moved on without hesitation.
No wonder he earned the nickname J-Smooth.
Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who overcame several health problems and drug addiction during his 13 seasons, abruptly retired to "move on to the next phase of my life."
"It's hard because I know I can still go out there and do it," Smith said. "I just figure it's not in my heart to (continue). If I'm going to play, it's got to be 100 percent. I won't get out there and not give it my all. If I can't give it my all to this organization and the fans, I'm just not going to do that. This is just not the type of person that I am.
"It's best for me to leave on a high note. I want to be able to enjoy my legacy."
The 37-year-old receiver led the Jaguars with 70 catches for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns last season. He ranks seventh in NFL history with 862 receptions and 11th with 12,287 yards receiving. He has more receptions than every receiver in the Hall of Fame, and only Marvin Harrison has had more catches and yards receiving than Smith since 1996.
Smith contemplated retirement earlier this offseason, but Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio asked him to take his time and be sure he was making the right choice. His announcement came a day before the team opened a three-day minicamp.
"I thought I had another year in me," Smith said. "I've been struggling with whether I should play an extra year or leave while I can still walk away, while my knees are still intact.
"It's best to leave on top. Not many players in the NFL get a chance to do what I'm doing today and walk away from the game happy. I can live the rest of my life happy."
Smith's longevity was surprising -- even to him -- especially considering what he overcame.
In 2001, he had three operations to remove scar tissue from his abdomen. Some questioned whether he would play again, but he caught 112 passes for 1,373 yards -- despite being arrested in November that year for suspicion of drunken driving. Tests later revealed he had cocaine in his system. He vehemently denied using the drug.
He was suspended for the first four games of the 2003 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He then publicly acknowledged an addiction and spent several weeks in rehab.
He had other issues early in his career, too.
The third receiver selected in the 1992 draft behind Desmond Howard and Carl Pickens, Smith broke his leg and missed most of his rookie season. In 1993, he needed an emergency appendectomy and suffered through infection and stomach problems. He missed the entire year. He didn't play in 1994, either, after getting cut by Dallas and Philadelphia.
In 1995, he caught on with the expansion Jaguars after his mother sent coach Tom Coughlin a binder of press clippings to help him earn a tryout.
He made the most of his chance, teaming with Keenan McCardell to help land the Jaguars in the playoffs in only their second season.
"He was one of the great Jaguars and certainly one of the great receivers in NFL history," said James Harris, the team's vice president of player personnel. "Jimmy is not one of the most acclaimed guys, but he's one of the most respected receivers in the game.
"Most people will say that he's one of the best pure route runners in the game, and we all hate to see Jimmy go."
The Associated Press News Service
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