Otis Smith was a hit-or-miss corner for much of his 13-year NFL career, but he leaves the game a Patriot where his hits will be most remembered.
Smith, 39, signed a one-day contract with the Patriots this week and retired from the NFL, leaving the game as a member of the organization for which he played in two Super Bowls and won one. In fact, Smith almost copped the MVP award in that win, a 20-17 upset of the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, when he helped shut down an explosive Rams offense and wideout Torry Holt while intercepting Kurt Warner to help set up a Patriots field goal.
]()Smith also made a famous play to clinch the team's 1996 Super Bowl berth when he returned a fumble 47 yards for a touchdown to ice a 20-6 win over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game to help the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI.
"I wanted to retire as a Patriot because the greatest success of my career came in a Patriots uniform," Smith explained in a Patriots Football Weekly interview. "The thing I really liked about New England is that the fans always appreciated my talents and what I brought to the table, win or lose. They appreciated the effort more than the actual winning itself."
But the winning is what brought Smith back to New England. In 13 seasons, Smith played for the Eagles, who originally signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri, along with two stints as a Jet and two as a Patriot. He played his final season for the Lions in 2003. The 5-11, 198-pound corner started 48 of 59 games in New England over three-plus seasons and intercepted 10 passes, including two which he returned for touchdowns.
In his career, Smith intercepted 29 regular-season passes in 180 games and 108 starts and also picked off two passes in the postseason. He returned seven of those interceptions for touchdowns. He also finished with 525 career tackles, 5.5 sacks, 107 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.
And despite playing five seasons with the Eagles and four with the Jets, Smith wanted to leave the game a Patriot.
"We were successful together," he said, "and when people ask me what happened with me and football, I decided to retire with the team I won with and the team I got a lot of exposure with. We won a lot of games together and lost a lot of games, but we stuck together. There is a team concept in New England, not just from the standpoint of the players but expressed throughout the whole organization. I have developed a feeling in my heart for the way that the Patriots do things and that is something I want my to be tied to for the rest of my life. When people ask me who I played for, I say the New England Patriots. I guess you could say I'm a Patriot.
"It was just a different atmosphere for me [in New England]," he added. "It was the way I was treated not just on the field, but off it. People treated me with respect and I didn't walk around like some big celebrity. When people wanted to talk to me about football, I would talk about it and give them some insight from a professional player's standpoint."
His was a viewpoint long on experience, which he gained by working his way onto NFL rosters as undrafted player. He admitted that it was difficult to leave New England when he was released before the 2003 season, but his affinity for Bill Belichick also influenced his decision to retire a Patriot.
"It was what I learned under Bill's tutelage. He taught me how to be a professional and go about it in a professional manner all the time regardless of what time of year it is," Smith said. "That's the way I was able to – what some would call – "defy" age because I constantly trained and was a professional about my job year round. Even as hard as I worked, you're time runs out because it's a young man's game and I played as long as I possibly could play. To retire under Bill's name is something I think is special not just for me, but for him as well."
Belichick, for his part, issued the following statement on Smith's retirement, confirming his former player's thoughts: "When I think about Otis Smith, a few things come to mind immediately: his incredible work ethic, the respect he earned as a result of the leadership he brought to the team and his production in some of our biggest games. Otis helped the Patriots win a championship and he will always be respected and appreciated for that as well as for his professional approach to his job."
Smith was part of the group Belichick brought to New England back in 2000 as he looked to reshape the team's roster with "his" guys. Smith along with veterans like Bobby Hamilton, Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox, Mike Compton and Joe Andruzzi all signed in either 2000 or 2001 -- were all part of the foundation Belichick laid for what is now a three-time championship team.