The first Jimmy Smith

When the best wide receiver currently on the planet lines up against Paul Brown's team this Sunday, he'll bring a bit of the old man into the matchup.

At least that's what Jimmy Smith's father thinks when the Bengals try to stop his son's NFL-leading 21 catches this Sunday in Jacksonville.

Down in Jackson, Miss., where Mr. Smith coached his son through the PeeWees and the preps, the first Jimmy Smith remembered today how he told his son to hang with football. It was during the weeks after he was cut for the second time from the NFL. That was six years ago and now the second Jimmy Smith has caught more yards than anyone since 1996.

"Paul left his mark and what little I knew of him, I like to think I passed some of that on to Jimmy," Mr. Smith said. "Discipline. Believing in yourself. There's nobody better than you. There was probably some of that."

Jimmy Smith's Dad and Paul Brown had a cup of coffee with each other in that first, endless Bengals' training camp of 1968 that began July 5 at Wilmington College and didn't finish until Brown cut his 19 linebackers to six. To Jimmy Smith, the expansion Bengals' second pick in the 17th and last round of the NFL Draft out of Jackson State, that cup of coffee with Paul Brown is a glass of wine he still savors.

"Paul Brown was the kind of man you would cut off your right arm for," Mr. Smith said. "He was intelligent. He was a football scholar. A teacher."

He can't remember exactly why he got cut or who took his place back in the crazy quilted fall of 1968, when the world was falling apart as Paul Brown built his team. All Jimmy Smith knew was that he needed work because he had a baby on the way. There was family in Detroit and that's where Jimmy Smith was born Feb. 9, 1969.

And it seems like ever since then the son has always been passing through Cincinnati, but never staying.

In the 1992 Draft, the Bengals were thinking best player if they couldn't get a cornerback in the second round. When Mississippi Valley corner Ashley Ambrose, a friend of the Smiths, got picked 29th and Notre Dame corner Steve Israel went 30th, the Bengals picked receiver Carl Pickens at No. 31. The second Jimmy Smith of Jackson State was the next receiver taken. No. 36 by the Cowboys.

In nine games against the Bengals for the Jaguars, the second Jimmy Smith has walked through his Dad's team for 56 catches, 835 yards and five touchdowns. That's 15 yards per catch. The last time they played, Smith hit the fantasy fan's jackpot with 14 catches for 165 yards.

Frank Smouse, the long-time Bengals' scout, worked with the linebackers in the summer of '68 and recalls how, "Smitty stayed with us a long time during that training camp. He was a good player. A big guy (260 pounds) who could run. You've got to remember. There weren't as many teams. A lot of good guys didn't make it."

Smitty recognized Smouse when he bumped into him in a Mobile, Ala., hotel while Smouse was on a scouting mission late in the 1991 season. Smouse put two and two together. The Jackson State Jimmy Smith was his son. They kicked back on old times for awhile with Jimmy's wife, and Smouse remembers putting in his report, "Good family. Father one of our old linebackers."

The first Jimmy Smith was scared of Paul Brown. Most everyone was. But he remembers when he and two buddies were walking through the Wilmington campus and PB stopped them for casual conversation.

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"He was friendly. He talked football, told us to keep up the good work and that he liked what he was seeing from all the guys," Mr. Smith said. "And he turned to me and he said, 'You're going to be OK, Smitty.' You should have seen my eyes light up when he said that."

Smitty was going to be fine. But not in football. He went on to play three years with the Michigan Arrows of the WFL, but after he broke his leg and started going broke, he knew it was time. Part of the reason was because he remembered what Paul Brown said.

"He would always say if you can succeed in football, you'll be able to succeed in anything," Mr. Smith said. "That kind of stuck with me. He'd say that football was only a landmark in life and there was more than football."

The first Jimmy Smith proved that. He went back home, finished up his degree from Jackson State and became an area supervisor for Budweiser. Then he went out on his own to form Smith Trucking, a dump truck business he still runs, along with a 157-acre farm he shares with his son.

"I really mean this when I say this about my son and I know fathers say it all the time," the first Jimmy Smith said. "We're best friends. He would talk to me about any problem he would have. School. Girls. Football. There was no peer thing with him. We talked about everything."

They talked a lot back in the early '90s. There was that ugly grievance with Dallas owner Jerry Jones over the emergency appendectomy that ended his second season after training camp and the ensuing release. And then his release from the Eagles the day after Cutdown Day, 1994 sent him into exile for a year before the nothing-to-lose expansion Jaguars picked him up.

"I never told him that," said the first Jimmy Smith of telling his son to do what he did and move beyond football. "Because I saw there was greatness in him. Since he was six years old he was always the fastest. Nobody caught him until Jackson State. I had a coach tell me that dreamers are only sleeping. You have to go get it."

The second Jimmy Smith did. Paul Brown's team will find out again Sunday.

"I really enjoyed playing for a man like Paul," the first Jimmy Smith said. "Not many guys can say they did. He had a presence about him."

It was just a cup of coffee the summer before Jimmy Smith was born. But it's still freshly brewed.

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