Reports that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is suffering from the flu heading into Sunday's NFC Championship Game against Atlanta conjures memories of when the illness floored Bills Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith before a Divisional playoff game against the Steelers. Here's Vic Carucci's story from Jan. 8, 1996.
News Sports Reporter
How much of a difference would Bruce Smith have made in the Buffalo Bills' 40-21 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday?
"Had I been in the game, I think there would have been a different outcome," Smith said Sunday. "I know they aren't the better team."
The Bills' eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end was home with a case of the flu that hit "like a sledgehammer" while his teammates faced the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium. Smith watched the game on television from bed.
What he saw didn't make him feel any better. All Smith kept thinking was, had he been healthy, he could have provided two key elements Buffalo's defense needed against quarterback Neil O'Donnell and backs Bam Morris and Erric Pegram.
"We could have, first, shut down their running game and then been able to put more pressure on the quarterback," Smith said by telephone from his Orchard Park home. "Those were the things we were having problems with."
Morris carried 25 times for 106 yards (an average of 4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Pegram ran eight times for 33 yards (4.1-yards-per-carry).
O'Donnell wasn't sacked, and, facing minimal pressure in the first half, guided the Steelers to a 20-0 lead.
"They ran all over the place," Smith said. "And we weren't able to get a great deal of pressure on him (O'Donnell) until the second half, when we got some. If you give any quarterback time you can turn him into a hero."
Smith said he was "devastated" he had to miss the game, and told that to coach Marv Levy and general manager John Butler the morning of the game via telephone.
"I felt like I let my teammates down," Smith said. "I let everyone who was involved down. That's all I could tell John and Marv and everyone that was concerned with me . . . that I wish I could be there.
But under the circumstances, there was no possible way that I could."
Smith said he developed a pounding headache Thursday and, as a result, practiced only on a limited basis. He said he began feeling worse after he returned home.
When Smith awoke Friday morning with a temperature of 104 and his head still hurting, his wife, Carmen, drove him to the office of team physician Dr. Joseph Armenia to be examined. Smith said he was given three types of medication and sent home.
The Bills arranged to have a plane standing by to fly him to Pittsburgh Saturday morning, but Smith said there was never a chance he would play.
"I was thinking about my last will and testament at that point, that's how bad I felt. First of all, if somebody has the flu with a 104 temperature, they shouldn't be out there. To actually think that I would even go out there and try and play, I probably would have gotten hurt so bad that it probably would have ended my career and done more damage for me and the team than anything else.
"If somebody hasn't eaten in a day and a half, has the shakes, has a headache, has blurred vision when he stands up, has problems keeping his balance when he tries to walk, bounces into the wall in certain situations to keep himself from actually falling down . . believe me, I couldn't have done a thing out there on the field.
"Friday, Saturday and even now, if I try and stand up I get faint. In certain situations I've actually tripped and almost fell. Right now, I'm just so weak I can't do anything. I haven't seen my downstairs in three days."
Smith said he opted not to take a flu shot offered to the team earlier in the season.
"I took one one time in my career, about six years ago, and I got sick. And there's no guarantee that you won't get the flu if you do take it."
Smith said he was uncertain whether he would report to Rich Stadium today as Bills players undergo routine postseason physical examinations and clean out their dressing cubicles for the offseason.
"It's just taken a lot out of me," he said. "I haven't eaten in about three days. I only had a bowl of ice cream (Saturday).
"Dr. Armenia says it's going to take me about a week to get over it. He said to just take it slow."