Dec. 29, 1996 – Bruce Smith no doubt was still disappointed a day after a playoff loss to Jacksonville. At least he received some news that must have brought a smile to his face.
Smith was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year by the Associated Press. Smith’s total of 13.5 sacks, the most in the AFC, impressed the voters. Kevin Greene of Carolina finished second in the balloting.
It was the second time that Smith had won this award. He also captured it in 1990. Smith joined Joe Greene, Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary as two-time winners at the time, which is good company. Reggie White and Ray Lewis have joined that club since then.
Smith might not have thought about it at the time, but his ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton was just about punched. He made it official in 2009.
Budd Bailey is a retired sports reporter and editor at The Buffalo News. He is also the author of "Today in Buffalo Sports History." Learn more about the book here.