Jags receiver Smith retires

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Jimmy Smith cleared his throat, finished his sentence and bowed his head.

Then Smith, one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history, started to cry. But just like he has done so many times before in his career, he regrouped without hesitation.

No wonder he earned the nickname “J-Smooth.”

A five-time Pro Bowl selection who overcame health problems and a drug addiction during his 13 seasons, Smith abruptly retired Thursday to “move on to the next phase of my life.”

“It’s hard because I know I can still go out there and do it,” Smith said. “I just figure it’s not in my heart to (continue). If I’m going to play, it’s got to be 100 percent. I won’t get out there and not give it my all. … This is just not the type of person that I am.

The 37-year-old receiver led the Jags with 70 catches for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns last season.

It was his ninth season with at least 70 receptions and 1,000 yards.

“I’ve been playing 37 years,” he said. “It is time for me to retire. I’m tired, so leave it at that.”

Although overshadowed because he played most of his career in small-market Jacksonville, Smith ranks seventh in NFL history with 862 receptions and 11th with 12,287 yards receiving. He has more receptions than every receiver in the Hall of Fame, and only Marvin Harrison has more catches and yards receiving than Smith since 1996.

Flanked by his wife and team owner Wayne Weaver, Smith said he contemplated retirement in January but was talked into playing another year by friends and teammates. But with training camp on the horizon, Smith had a change of heart.

He said he approached Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio with the news last week. Del Rio asked him to take his time and be sure he was making the right choice. Smith called Del Rio again Wednesday night to confirm his decision. His announcement came a day before the team opened a three-day minicamp.

“I thought I had another year in me,” said Smith, who has four children. “I’ve been struggling with whether I should play an extra year or leave while I can still walk away, while my knees are still intact.

“It’s best to leave on top. Not many players in the NFL get a chance to do what I’m doing today and walk away from the game happy. I can live the rest of my life happy.”

Smith’s longevity was surprising – even to him – especially considering what he overcame.

In 2001, he had three operations to remove scar tissue from his abdomen. Some questioned whether he would play again, but he caught 112 passes for 1,373 yards – despite being arrested in November that year for suspicion of drunken driving. Tests later revealed he had cocaine in his system. He vehemently denied using the drug.

He was suspended for the first four games of the 2003 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He then publicly acknowledged an addiction and spent several weeks in rehab.

He had other issues early in his career, too.

The third receiver selected in the 1992 draft behind Desmond Howard and Carl Pickens, Smith broke his leg and missed most of his rookie season. In 1993, he needed an emergency appendectomy and suffered through infection and stomach problems. He missed the entire year. He didn’t play in 1994, either, after getting cut by Dallas and Philadelphia.

In 1995, he caught on with the expansion Jaguars after his mother sent coach Tom Coughlin a binder of press clippings to help him earn a tryout.

“We were, in effect, giving him his third and probably last chance in the National Football League,” Coughlin said Thursday.

Smith made the most of it, teaming with Keenan McCardell to help land the Jaguars in the playoffs in only their second season and eventually setting team records that could be hard to break.

“He became the most physical receiver in the NFL and could run by anybody,” said Tony Boselli, one of many former teammates on hand for Smith’s retirement.

“I hate to see him leaving the game when he’s still in his prime,” McCardell said. “I still think he can really help the Jaguars, but I respect his decision to walk away when he’s on top.”

AP-ES-05-11-06 1735EDT

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