Hall of Fame Series #3 - Fred Smerlas
I think one of the forgotten greats in Buffalo Bills history is Fred Smerlas. He departed Buffalo for San Francisco in 1990 just before the 4-year Super Bowl run and as such, gets somewhat lost in the shuffle. In my book Someday! I discuss at length what a mistake it was letting Smerlas go and argue Fred’s absence contributed to our loss in SBXXV. I don’t think Fred has as strong a case as Tasker and Hull but a case can nonetheless be made for Fred Smerlas’ Hall of Fame consideration.
The case for:
Smerlas was the prototypical nose tackle in the 3-4 defense. He could gobble blockers three at a time and free up linebackers to make one on one tackles without ever having to shed a guard or center. In my view the 1980 and ’81 Buffalo “Bermuda Triangle” defense was vastly underrated and is one of the NFL’s greatest defenses. In 1980 the Bills defense led the league in fewest yards allowed and in ’81 in ranked 7th. Both years the Bills made the playoffs. The key to that defense was Smerlas in the middle.
Smerlas was a 5xProBowler, a member of the Bills’ 50th Anniversary All-Time team and is on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium. By comparison the only other “true” nose tackles in the Hall of Fame are Curly Culp and Cortez Kennedy and Fred’s credentials stack up favorably. Culp did play on the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl IV championship team and on some pretty good Houston “Luv ya Blue” Oiler teams. Kennedy was an 8xPro Bowler and never played on a championship team. Honestly both Culp and Kennedy also played on some pretty mediocre teams as well.
The case against:
While Fred played on two great defenses, he also played on two of the worse teams in NFL history. The ’84 and ’85 Buffalo Bills were unwatchable back to back 2-14 fiascos. Unfortunately for his case, Fred started on both those teams. Fred also suffers as a member of the ‘89 Bickering Bills and his final years in New England do nothing to bolster his case. Lastly, Fred played in small market Buffalo and does not have anyone on the selection committee to champion his cause. Vic Carucci now writes in Cleveland and sports writing great Larry Felser has since passed. Either one could’ve made the case for Smerlas’ induction.
I think an objective look at Fred’s career yields serious consideration. However, Fred’s best chance is probably if and when they adjust the Pre-88 date for senior committee selection and the voters get a fresh look at Smerlas’ career. Maybe it’s because I was 15 years old when the Bermuda Triangle defense was terrorizing opposing ball carries but, I think Fred Smerlas should have a bust in Canton.