Bruce Smith's No. 78 will never be worn again here in Buffalo. The team made sure of that Wednesday in announcing Smith's No. 78 will be retired at halftime of the 2016 home opener.
President Russ Brandon explained why at One Bills Drive.
"You can make the argument that Bruce was one of the greatest players not only in Bills history," Brandon said, "but one of the greatest NFL players in history."
And later in his news conference, Brandon even went a little further in saying one could make the argument that Smith is "the greatest player of all-time in league history."
There are many players in that discussion, of course. Defensively, Smith's argument would be his NFL-record 200 sacks. He surpassed Reggie White and that record could stand for a very long time.
The natural question to Smith getting his number retired is why it took the Bills 15 years since Jim Kelly had his No. 12 retired. Brandon said it's been a conversation in the organization for a while, adding that they first wanted to get through the sale of the team in 2014 and the to-do list for new owners Terry and Kim Pegula.
Smith's No. 78 has not been issued to anyone since Smith left the Bills in 1999 to Washington.
"It's a tough question to answer," Brandon said. "It was about it being the right time and the right time is now."
Running back Thurman Thomas could be next, though Brandon wouldn't get into details in order to keep Wednesday about Smith.
The first time Brandon met Smith? He brought up a moment in 1997 when he was working in marketing and business administration. Smith, Kelly, Thomas and Kent Hull all visited his office and told him "what it meant to be a Buffalo Bill and what was expected." They wanted to know the standard.
Now, Smith will be honored at Ralph Wilson Stadium in September. Many memories have returned for those who interacted with Smith and watched him play every Sunday.
"How hard he played each and every Sunday," Brandon said. "His commitment. And I remember after a game, something I'll take with me the rest of my life, it was a pretty tough defeat. I don't remember which game it was, we were pretty down the next day and Bruce came up to the office and said 'There's a 24-hour rule. This is how we've been so successful in the organization. You and everyone else needs to get over this like we do because we have to go back to work. And that was the kind of work ethic and intensity and that entire team brought each and every day. Just watching him at his craft, he was an amazing, unbelievable player and I know the numbers speak for themselves."
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