For most NFL players, the idea of playing in the Super Bowl is only a dream, but for Jimmy Smith, it's reality. In only his second year in the National Football League, Smith will participate in his sport's biggest event - and arguably the sporting world's biggest.
Smith, a former cornerback at the University of Colorado, already has competed in five playoff games, including two AFC Championships. His 29th career game will come on the biggest stage of all when Super Bowl XLVII kicks off on Sunday in New Orleans.
"Having the opportunity to play in the AFC championship game last year really prepares you for such a big moment," Smith said in a telephone interview for CUBuffs.com. "And then going out there again this year, you don't get the same feeling because you have already been there."
Smith, now 24, is accustomed to contributing at a young age. As a freshman at CU he played in all 13 games during a season (2007) that included a trip to the Independence Bowl, contributing largely on special teams and at cornerback.
In the final game of the season, with CU needing a win against archrival Nebraska to obtain bowl eligibility, it was Smith who returned an interception of Cornhusker quarterback Joe Ganz 31 yards for a touchdown. The play gave CU the lead and all the momentum it needed to carry the Buffs into the last bowl appearance the program has made.
It was just the beginning of what would be a long and successful CU career for Smith. His accomplishments as a Buff led to the Baltimore Ravens selecting him with the 27th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Now preparing for the Super Bowl and even though he is still young in NFL years, the moment doesn't seem too big for Smith.
"I understand the magnitude of it and how important it is and how big the game is. But, being on this team I am almost spoiled in the sense that I kind of expected to be here," Smith explained. "That is just our team's mentality, we expected to go this far."
One reason Smith might have had such high expectations so early in his career is because he plays alongside two future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Lewis, a 17-year NFL veteran, won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2001 while Reed, an 11-year 'vet', has played in 11 career playoff games.
The leadership and work ethic both players exhibit have left an impact on the young Smith, who would like nothing more than to help his teammates win a Super Bowl.
"It has been an enlightening experience playing with both of them," said Smith. "It rubs off on you, the impact and influence they have had on me is insurmountable and you can't even put words together to describe it."
Yet, both players can thank Smith for the opportunity they have ahead of them on Sunday, because without one very important tackle it may have never existed.
During their improbable come-from-behind victory over Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs, Smith delivered the biggest play of his NFL career. With 3:59 remaining in overtime, Baltimore was forced to punt to Denver's Trindon Holliday, who had already returned a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown.
Holliday fielded the punt with seemingly no Raven defenders in sight and the end zone on his mind. However, Jimmy Smith was there and the only thing he was thinking about was bringing Holliday to the ground.
"Once I got down there I saw him catch the ball and I knew he was going to try to bounce it out around me, so I just timed it up perfectly," said Smith. "He started running towards me and I knew he didn't want to cut back, he wanted to get around me, and he had a whole lot of grass in front of him so I just wanted to make sure I cut his angle off and made a sure tackle."
The Broncos' ensuing drive would end with an interception, which the Ravens took advantage of by kicking a game-winning field goal early in the second overtime to advance to the team's second consecutive AFC Championship game.
Since then, there has only been pure joy and excitement throughout the city of Baltimore. And for the Ravens, emotions have surely been flying high, but Smith says the mood in practice has not changed because their goal has yet to be accomplished.
Although most of the nation severely doubted the possibility of Baltimore playing this late into the year, the mentality among Raven players was "Super Bowl or bust" and it never wavered even as the team's injury report grew larger week after week.
Smith became one of those players forced to the sideline after suffering a sports hernia that required surgery in November. It was a tough process for him to deal with. He never was injured during his CU career, and he wanted badly to contribute to a Ravens team that was already stricken with injuries.
Said Smith: "It was just hard for me to sit on the sideline and not be playing. I knew it was only because I was injured, but it was still hard to swallow that."
Smith was able to remain positive thanks to the support of his coaches, teammates, and family - particularly his brother who talked with him almost daily on the phone. Smith described it all as a roller coaster-type experience.
He was able to overcome the challenge and now looks forward to the opportunity to win the Super Bowl.
"I am going to enjoy every moment of this, because it doesn't come around that often and who knows the next time I could be in this game. Shoot, I may never even play football again; you never know what can happen," Smith explained. "I am definitely going to embrace all of it and take it all in but I'm just not going to let it overwhelm me."
When the entire world is watching, Smith will surely be looking to make another timely play as he has done so often in his football career.
"I'm going to hold it down, I'm glad to be representing the Buffaloes and hopefully we will come up with the victory to make all of CU proud," he said.
|Gleason (right) with another former CU Sports Information Graduate Assitant, Adam Woullard, who now works for Gatorade, at the Super Bowl Media Day|
Smith is not the only CU alum representing the Buffaloes in Super Bowl XLVII. Former Colorado Sports Information graduate assistant Patrick Gleason now works as the Ravens Public/Media Relations Manager.
Gleason graduated from Colorado in 2005 and is currently in his eighth year working for Baltimore. He describes his career as a blessing and a dream come true.
"This has been an unbelievable experience, it has been such an incredible ride," Gleason said. "And not just these past four weeks during the playoff run, but my entire time I've been here in Baltimore."
Gleason credited the Baltimore Ravens organization and their front office for his success as well as the foundation of knowledge he built working five years in the SID office during his time at Colorado. He went through his first Super Bowl media day this past Tuesday, but little could prepare anyone for that first-time experience.
"It was nuts, no other way to say it, but both exhausting and incredible," he said. "It was quite a day, but I loved every minute of it."
From Boulder to the Bayou, these Buffs will stampede their way onto the nation's biggest stage as all will be watching and anticipating the greatest spectacle in sports . . . the Super (Buff) Bowl.