The purpose of today’s post is to wish a “Happy Birthday” to Michigan man Jim Smith. According to the 1975 Michigan Football Media Guide, James Arthur “Jim” Smith was born on this day in Harvey, Illinois. He grew up to be an outstanding football player at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois. In 1972, Jim earned all-conference and all-state honors at end in his senior year. Smith’s outstanding play caught the eye of Bo Schembechler and Bo convinced him to attend Michigan.
James A. Smith arrived in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1973. He played on the varsity and earned a letter, but he didn’t play a lot that season. Jim caught 2 passes for 28-yards. So, it was a pretty quiet start for Mr. Smith in Ann Arbor. Actually, I am sure that he spent a lot of time learning how to block in Bo’s offensive scheme, since he already knew how to catch the ball.
Apparently, Jim Smith learned his lessons well. Once he got on the field in 1974, he stayed on the field. Jim started all eleven games at left end in 1974. He caught 21 passes for 392-yards and scored 4 touchdowns. Jim gained an average of 18.7 yards per catch. Smith earned his second letter on a team won ten of eleven games and tied for the Big Ten Championship.
Jim Smith’s talents caused Bo to use him at wingback in 1975. So, Jim got more touches on offense. He also returned punts and kickoffs. Smith logged 31-carries and gained 253-yards in his junior season. Smith scored a touchdown and averaged 7.6 yards per carry. Jim was even more productive as a receiver. He caught 24-passes for 553-yard and scored 4 touchdowns! Jim Smith earned his third varsity letter and was named the Frederick Matthaei Award winner at the end of the season. Oh yes, he earned first team All-Big Ten honors for his outstanding play. The Wolverines posted an overall record of 8-2-2 and finished second in the conference that year with a record of 7 wins and 1 loss.
The 1976 season was Jim Smith’s best campaign at Michigan for many reasons. He continued to excel from the wingback position and also returned punts and kickoffs. Smith started every game (12) and gained 158-yards on 25 carries. He averaged 6.3 yards per rush and caught a career-high 26 passes for 714 yards. His impressive numbers averaged out to 27.5 yards per catch – a Michigan record! Jim also scored 6 touchdowns for the season. Smith repeated as an All-Big Ten player and added All-American honors to his Michigan resume.
Michigan won ten of twelve games and tied for the Big Ten Championship in 1976. They spent eight weeks as the top ranked team in the country until they were upset at Purdue. The season ended on a low note as the Wolverines lost (6-14) to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
Jim Smith’s name is still in the Michigan Football Record Book because of some important Wolverine football “firsts.”
Jim Smith didn’t get a chance to catch as many passes as he may have liked in Bo’s “run-oriented” offense in the mid-1970s. However, he made the most of every catch! He ended a marvelous career with 35 consecutive starts, 4 varsity letters, 2 Big Ten Championships, and Big Ten and All-American honors. It doesn’t get much better than that for a Michigan Man!
After college, Jim Smith played nine years in the National Football League. He played on two Super Bowl Champions with the Pittsburgh Steelers. So, today is a good day to remember the career of Jim Smith and appreciate his contributions to Michigan Football. Go Blue!
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