- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

Bruce Smith has done the math.

“I’ve figured it out, and to this point I’ve spent over two years of my life in training camp,” he said. “That’s a long time.”

So why would the Washington Redskins’ defensive end want to come back, at age 40, for his 19th and likely last summer of grueling two-a-days?

Smith’s answer may not be what you expect.

“I’m sick and tired of the 8-8 seasons,” he said, referring to the Redskins’ recent mediocrity (8-8 in 2000 and 2001, 7-9 last year). “This game hurts too much mentally and physically to go 8-8. Your body, it hurts more when you’re losing. It hurts twice as bad. I believe that things are going to be different this year. If I didn’t believe that in my heart and in my mind, I wouldn’t be here.”

So Smith is not returning because he needs just four sacks to break Reggie White’s NFL career record?

“No,” Smith said. “My reason for being here is to establish dominance by this defense and to win games. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Based on his fairly high level of play in the latter stages of his career — he has recorded 24 sacks in three seasons with the Redskins — it is a virtual certainty that Smith will set the record this season. He enters 2003 with 185.

Though Smith does his best to deflect talk from his pending milestone and toward his teammates and their prospects for a successful year, he would be remiss if he didn’t at least acknowledge the giant carrot dangling in front of his nose.

“Individually, [the record] would certainly put an exclamation point on my career,” he said. “It’s one that I will always remember. This record will stand for years and years to come, mainly because nobody will be crazy and stupid enough to play this long.”

Or this well. Smith remains a highly productive player. He started all 16 games in 2002 and got stronger as the season progressed, picking up six of his nine sacks in the last five games.

The Redskins didn’t have to think twice about re-signing him for one more season. Smith, on the other hand, had to take some time to contemplate his future. There were three compelling factors, he said, that led him to come back for what will almost surely be his final season.

• His own feeling that he can sustain a high level of play. “Had I not had a great season last year, I doubt that I’d be out here right now.”

• Washington’s commitment to improve its roster and make a legitimate run for the postseason.

• Perhaps most importantly, some words of wisdom Smith received from Gerry Snyder, the late father of Redskins owner Dan Snyder, during a lengthy meeting the day after last season ended.

“He told me, ‘Never leave a job unfinished. If there’s work left to be done, go out and do it,’” Smith said. “That was some good, solid advice that has carried me up to this point. I’m not going to abandon it now.”

And so Smith finds himself back on the practice fields at Redskin Park, going through the same drills he did during his first NFL training camp with the Buffalo Bills in 1985.

Some things, though, have changed since those early days and even since last year. Smith is participating in only one of two practice sessions on most days — after 19 years, does he really need to spend countless hours refining his pass rushing technique? — and he’s also no longer assured of a starting spot.

The Redskins signed veteran defensive end Regan Upshaw during the offseason and immediately anointed him the starter at right end over Smith. Coach Steve Spurrier has since amended those plans and says whichever man performs better will get the most playing time.

Smith likely will line up for about 60 percent of plays from scrimmage, mostly on passing downs. The arrangement is fine with him — “I don’t see where there’s any need to be an every-down player” — and with Upshaw, who has turned a potentially dicey situation into a positive.

“I think of this situation as a blessing,” the former Oakland Raider said. “I’m out here playing with my childhood idol. I’ve always been able to watch him on film, but now I get to see him in person and ask him questions. I can get advice from the best and maybe steal a few moves before he disappears on me.”

Based on his 15 years and four Super Bowl appearances in Buffalo, Smith undoubtedly will be remembered as a Bill. He does, however, believe he has established a legacy with the Redskins in the relatively brief amount of time he has spent in town.

“My goal when I came here was to improve our defense,” he said. “We were next to last in the league in defense before I got here. The year I got here, we finished fourth. We’ve never finished worse than 10th overall defensively. … They wanted an impact player when I signed here, and they got one.”

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