The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 50 is defensive end Chuck Smith.
Years played for Falcons: Chuck Smith played for the legendary Bill Henderson at Clarke Central High School in Athens before going to junior college for two seasons and then becoming a star at the University of Tennessee under head coach Johnny Majors. The Falcons picked him in the second round (51st overall) of the 1992 draft and he played eight seasons in Atlanta.
His impact on the team: Smith had 58 ½ sacks (third in franchise history) during his career with the Falcons but as one of the leaders of the “Dirty Birds’’ defense he is known best for a forced fumble in the 1998 NFC Championship game in Minnesota. Late in the first half, the Falcons were down 20-7 when Smith jarred the ball loose from Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham. Travis Hall jumped on it and the Falcons scored quickly on a Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis 14-yard pass to get back in a game, one they would win 30-27 in overtime that lead to what is still their only Super Bowl appearance. Controversial at times, Smith criticized the team’s front office philosophy in 1996, saying the team needed to focus more on the defensive side of the ball, and was suspended for a game by then head coach June Jones. He played one season in Carolina before retiring in 2000.
Smith on the 1998 Super Bowl season: “It was magical. I look back at that team and think how underrated we were. Nobody gave us a chance to beat Minnesota. But we all worked really hard together and we had a lot of tough guys. We had the little showbiz thing with the ‘Dirty Bird’ thing but we all felt we were public people and that we cared about the city of Atlanta. Plus, I was from Athens, Keith (Brooking) had played in Gwinnett County, Jessie (Tuggle) was from Griffin. There was a lot of local flavor.’’
Where is he now: Now 45 and living in Suwanee, Smith has been busy since his retirement, once working as an assistant at Tennessee and has done both both radio and television. His main focus these days is building his own company called “D Line Inc.’’ He specializes in working with defensive lineman but also in high-performance skill training for football players of all ages. He remains very involved in his alma mater in Knoxville, once sitting on the athletic board.
The countdown to the Top 50 players in Falcons history runs through the end of the season.