Jeff Pearlman

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The 25 best players in USFL history: No. 21—Jimmy Smith

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I am counting down the top 25 players in USFL history, concluding with the announcement of the No. 1 guy on Sept. 10—the eve of the release date for Football for a Buck.

The list comes after years of writing and researching my book, as well as a lifetime of loving the long, lost spring football league.

There have been books throughout my career that were written because the moment was right. There have been books throughout my career that felt like pure labor (sorry, Roger Clemens). But Football for a Buck is pure passion. Everything about the USFL spoke to me. The colors. The uniforms. The nicknames. The stars. The scrubs. It felt real and gritty and authentic.

Hence, the book.

Hence, the list.

Also, a quick point: This has 0 to do with what the players later became. NFL accomplishments are insignificant here. It’s all about the USFL.

So, with no further ado …

No. 21: Jimmy Smith

Wide receiver

Birmingham Stallion (1983-85)

Because Jimmy Smith’s name is Jimmy Smith, and because he didn’t say very much, it’s easy to forget that the USFL’s all-time leading pass catcher (227 grabs for 3,559 yards and 31 touchdowns over three seasons) was a truly fantastic player who, pre-Birmingham, was the third wideout behind Lynn Swann and John Stallworth with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Smith signed with the USFL at the league’s beginning, and immediately became the highest-paid wide receiver in football. As noted by Wikipedia: In 1983, he caught 51 passes for 756 yards and three touchdowns. In 1984, he caught 89 passes and led the USFL with 1,481 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. In the USFL’s final season, 1985, Smith had his best year as a professional, finishing third in the USFL with 87 catches for 1,322 yards. He also led the USFL’s receivers with 20 touchdown receptions.

Of all the primary guys who jumped leagues, Smith was the oddest fit. The USFL was all about bright colors and look-at-me antics. Smith had none of that. The USFL was also home to myriad pot smokers, cocaine snorters, hard drinkers. Again—not Smith’s bag. He just went out and caught passes. He wasn’t an engaged teammate. He wasn’t hitting the clubs with Joe Cribbs or Cliff Stoudt. Nope—just play.

From Football for a Buck

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Player No. 25: Tim Spencer

Player No. 24: Chuck Clanton

Player No. 23: Maurice Carthon

Player No. 22: Marcus Marek

Player No. 21: Jimmy Smith

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life