- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bruce Smith’s homecoming was accompanied by a familiar sound. As the longtime Buffalo Bills defensive end was introduced as the last Washington Redskins starter before yesterday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, most of the crowd stood up and erupted with the famous “Bruuuce!”chant as he ran from the tunnel.

Smith came back to Buffalo eyeing history because he is closing in on the NFL’s career sack record, but also to say goodbye to the place where he built his Hall of Fame credentials. It was his first trip back to Buffalo since being unexpectedly released as a cost-cutting move following the 1999 season. That ended a 15-season relationship during which he helped the Bills reach four Super Bowls and was one of the city’s most beloved sports heroes.

“It was certainly an emotional experience for me coming back and seeing so many fans yelling and chanting,” said Smith, who played 217 games and made 11 Pro Bowls while playing for the Bills. “It was certainly a memorable experience for me. For all the years that I have been here and they supported my career, I just wanted to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ It was a great treat for me.”

Smith, in his fourth season in Washington, is expected to retire after this season at age 40. Several in the stands wore blue No.78 Bills jerseys, and one sign read, “Bruce Almighty.”

Yet it was a bittersweet return for Smith, whose Redskins absorbed a critical and one-sided loss. He stood on the sideline holding his helmet on the last few series with the game out of hand.

“Being in the stadium with 70-plus thousand fans, I felt their energy and I hope that they felt mine,” Smith said. “I thought it was a warm reception. Unfortunately, I came up on the short end of the stick.”

The storybook ending didn’t happen either as Smith failed to get a sack, and still needs two to surpass Reggie White’s record of 198. Although the stats don’t show it, the ancient lineman was effective from his right end spot, and his pressure helped force an interception by David Terrell as Buffalo was driving inside Washington territory late in the first half.

“Right before the half, we created some one-on-one situations,” said Smith, who has only 1 sacks through seven games this season. “I got close to Drew [Bledsoe], I think it was three times. One time I was going in for a sack, and he grabbed me and it was a holding call. Another time I hit the ball and he had to re-grip it, and he threw the ball high. Another time I put pressure on him on as well.”

Smith, selected first by Buffalo out of Virginia Tech in the 1985 draft, got few chances in the second half as the Bills mostly ran the ball to protect their lead.

Several Bills exchanged hugs with Smith after the game, and Bledsoe put his arm around him as they walked off the field. The lineman said he felt a sense of closure after taking the trip down memory lane.

Smith said he was happy to be in Buffalo on the same day the Bills inducted his former teammate, Darryl Talley, into the stadium’s Wall of Fame. Smith eventually will join the ex-linebacker in the hallowed circle, but that will have to wait at least a little while.

“One day that will take place,” Smith said. “Right now I still have some more football left to play.”

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