ANDERSON – Hunter Smith played with the Colts from 1999-08 and ranks third in franchise history in punts and fourth in average. He appeared in 15 playoff games with the club. His band, The Hunter Smith Band, plays in Colts City today before the night practice. With training camp underway, Colts.com catches up with him.
Who was the opposing head coach you least liked to face – Bill Belichick. No coach I've ever played against has their team better prepared on game day than Bill. He has no time for drama. His teams methodically – and with great poise – are a force year after year.
What was your favorite road stadium to play in and why –It was Arrowhead Stadium. It felt like the epitome of NFL football – great fans who are smart, great atmosphere, and we usually won a hard-fought game there.
What opposing player did you respect the most and why –From a team standpoint, it was Tom Brady. He always prepared, and he was always calm. Even in defeat, I can't say he ever played poorly against us. He's just a tremendous player." From a personal standpoint, I'd pick Deion Sanders. He was electric.
Who was the NFL player you wanted to meet the most before you made the league and why –I wanted to meet Troy Aikman. I grew up in North Texas in the 1990's. Need I say more? The first time I met Troy, I tossed a football to him and ran out for a pass. He threw. I caught. It was a dream come true. It became a tradition for us in the years to follow whenever he would come to practice in preparation for one of our games he was commentating. I'll always remember it. He was very gracious.
What was your most memorable Colts game and why –It was beating New England in the 2006 AFC Championship game. The relief of winning along with the realization we were going to the Super Bowl created an unmatched emotion.
Who was the toughest teammate you had and why was he the toughest –Easily, it was Peyton Manning. Because of the secretive nature of the game, no one will ever know how many injuries he played through over the years. Lots of people play through pain, but nobody plays as effectively with it as Peyton.
What was the hardest thing you ever had to do in a game –We were playing New England at home in the first year at Lucas Oil Stadium (2008). Wes Welker was really humming as a punt returner that year. Our coaching staff was willing to do anything to avoid putting the ball in his hands. We didn't punt a lot in that game (or any other game while Peyton was QB for that matter), but we did have to punt at the very end of the game with a small lead. We took a timeout to discuss our strategy. The ball was on our 48-yard line, 52 yards from the goal line. Coach Dungy suggested punting it through the end zone. I disagreed contending that we should punt the ball very high and short to force the fair catch. Tony dug in his heels and insisted that punting the ball through the end zone was the right move. In my head I was thinking, 'Tony, do you realize it takes a 52-yard punt just to reach the goal-line? I could hit a very solid punt right now and he would still return it. You're asking for at least a 62-yard punt into a heavy punt rush. You feeling ok, man?' But, I'm the player, he's the coach so we did it his way. I should know when Tony suggests something, it's probably best. I caught the snap and punted a laser over Welker's head, through the goal posts, into the box suites behind the uprights. Of course, no one ever remembers great punts, but I'll never forget the sequence of discussion and the ensuing result. Needless to say, we won the game.
What was the hardest thing about playing on the road –The hardest thing about playing on the road was also my favorite thing about playing on the road – the opposing fans. As a specialist, I learned the personalities of the fans depending on the part of the country we were in. In the Midwest, the fans are strong but respectful. In the Northeast, they are bitter, resentful and hateful. Down South, they are crazy and humorous. In Texas, they are classy. Out West, they are loose and cheerful (in San Diego they are downright happy….because hey, win or lose they live in Southern California). In all places, they are mostly inebriated. I have had some great exchanges with fans. The best tactic I found for quieting down the crazy drunk hecklers by the kicking net was interacting with them. Nothing neutralizes someone like looking right at them and talking to them. By the end of most games – even the ones in the Northeast – I would have a small contingency of opposing fans by the kicking net cheering for me and congratulating me after I had a good punt. I'll never forget this big ole' scary-looking New York Jets fan pointing at me after a fake field goal I ran for a touchdown and screaming, 'You're alright, Smith!!!!!' Of course, at the beginning of the game he was screaming every imaginable expletive at me. By the end we were boys.
What was your favorite road win –The Monday Night miracle in Tampa on Tony's birthday was my favorite. We were down by 21 points and most of the country probably had turned off the game. We rallied for a huge win in overtime, scoring three touchdowns then Mike Vanderjagt made a field goal after a controversial penalty. We were a young team at that point, and it was a formative win for us. The team singing 'Happy Birthday' to Tony in the locker room was loud and way out of tune, but it was great.
What did your jersey number mean to you –I was number 17 ever since junior high. For some reason it just stuck. I like odd numbers, and I like the number 7.
What was the most fun thing about training camp –Golf, guitars, basketball, camaraderie and chocolate cake. No particular order.
What was the toughest thing about training camp –Being injured was the toughest thing. When you're hurt it's like you're still a part of the franchise, but not a part of the team.
What advice would you give to players heading into the NFL –Read my book, 'The Jersey Effect.' Future NFL players are one of the main audiences it is directed toward. NFL players are rarely prepared well for post-NFL life. Begin thinking about what life will look like after the game and seek counsel from those who have gone before you.
If you could pick three people to share a meal with, who would they be and why would you include them –Abraham Lincoln would be one I would pick because I have been studying his life and can't fathom a person – both from my own research and the commentary of others – who did more to ensure the cause of freedom and preserve our existence as Americans. My great, great grandfather, John Hunter (who I am named after), would be another. It would be amazing to sit down with him and discuss life and family. It would help me understand how we all got to be the way we are! Lastly, my wife, Jennifer. We have four kids, and I would relish any opportunity to share a quiet meal with her.
If you could pick one historical figure to meet, who would it be –Abraham. He, in one way or another, is the founder of three out of the five major world religions. There are 4.5 billion people on the earth today who have been influenced by his life. Billions more over the last several thousand years find their spiritual heritage in his story and responses. No other pure human can make that claim.
When was the loudest you heard the RCA Dome or Lucas Oil Stadium and what was the circumstance –When Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady in the fourth-quarter of the AFC Championship game to seal our trip to the Super Bowl in 2006. It was a climax that was years in the making, an outburst of celebration, relief, and realization that we were going to the Super Bowl. That sound will never be duplicated (see video). The reaction was the most special moment of celebration I ever heard in a football uniform.
What was the best overall prank you saw pulled –For the first three years of my career, it seemed that Peyton was always sprinting back inside during the first few minutes of practice. I wondered why, then found out someone loved to put Ben-Gay or some other deep-heating rub in his jock before practice. No one ever saw #18 run as fast as he would on those days. I remember thinking, 'Wait, this guy runs the place around here. Who's crazy enough to do that to him?' It was the backup quarterbacks. Peyton was a good sport about it. I can't mention the pranks he would pull in response. They were grisly.
What was the best prank played on you –When I was a rookie we had a Colts Christmas Party on the field at the RCA Dome. Everyone was there – executives, lawyers, front office, coaches, players, etc. It looked strangely like an episode of 'The Office.' We were told everyone was supposed to bring an ornament to decorate Mr. Irsay's tree with. Well, 'everyone' actually meant just the rookies. There was no 'Mr. Irsay's tree.' And worse, some of the vets told some of the rookies it was a joke. I wasn't one of the rookies who were let in on the joke. I showed up with a BIG Santa Claus ornament (because, after all, it IS Mr. Irsay's tree so it's bound to be big and need big ornaments, right?) I spent the first half hour of the party walking around to people with my ornament asking where Mr. Irsay's tree was. Finally someone pointed me over to a place where people were taking staged pictures together. There was a Christmas tree there. It was covered in lights; no ornaments. Someone grabbed my ornament and hung it on the tree. I was told to pose with it for a picture, which I did. It was then that it all started to dawn on me. The picture stayed on the bulletin board in the locker room for several days. They got me.
Which of your head coaches gave the best pre-game speech –Lou Holtz, hands down, although, Jim Mora was pretty formidable at post-game speeches.
Which of your teammates gave the best pre-game or locker room speeches –It didn't happen too much on our team, but Jeff Saturday delivered a big one on the night before we beat New England to go to Super Bowl XLI. He captured the moment, and it was a memorable speech about it being 'Our Time.'
Do you have a favorite quote? If so, what is it and why does it mean something to you –Mine is Biblical – 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' – Matthew 5:3-10. I love this passage because it completely explodes everything we esteem. We say something is strong, God says it's weak. We say something is immovable, God moves it. I firmly believe God's economy operates on completely different capital than our social, relational, financial, and political economies. There are a lot of people on the earth right now on many different sides of a global spiritual argument – religious people (of all faiths) who think they have God figured out, non-religious people, confused and hurting folks, cynical atheists, dogmatic fundamentalists etc. There are also a lot of honest, introspective believers out there who really want truth. (For the record, I have found myself on every side of the argument at one point or another.) I am of the persuasion, according to this scripture, that we are up for some real surprises on the other side of this life. In a world full of institutions – many of them religious – glorifying self-confidence, happiness, pride, revenge, immorality, conquest and prosperity there's bound to be a massive swath of humanity shocked when they find God's priorities to be attributes like 'poor in spirit, pure in heart or peacemaker.' I look forward to that day and am thankful already for the grace I will receive for my many shortcomings.
What is the best college uniform and why –Notre Dame. C'mon now?
What is the best NFL uniform (other than the Colts) and why –The Dallas Cowboys. I grew up an hour from Dallas so I'm kinda programmed.
If you could have played under any head coach in history (even beyond the NFL) for whom you didn't play, who would it be and why would you want to play for him –I would pick Tom Landry. He treated his players like men. He won without all of the glamour. He was a picture of class and grace. Incidentally, the hat was a nice touch.
What is your all-time favorite stadium (not necessarily in the NFL) and why –Notre Dame Stadium. I was able to play in it before the refurbishing. Then, my senior year, I played in the finished product. It was beautiful, full of mystique and full of memories both ways.
What are some of the strangest or funniest sideline moments you remember –When I was a freshman at Notre Dame, I was punting into the net during the first game of the year. We were playing Northwestern and were on defense. The line of scrimmage was around the 30-yard line, which was the same area we had the kicking net. I was terribly nervous and shanked a practice punt so poorly that it missed the net, glanced off to the right and landed on the field. Well, it just so happens that there was a play coming in the direction of the ball. Our defense left pursuit of the ball carrier and jumped on the ball I punted onto the field as though it were a fumble. Thankfully, one of our defenders had the presence of mind to realize there was still a ball in the offensive player's hands and tackled him. Our defense jumped up jubilant pointing downfield holding the ball up in the air celebrating the "turnover," then became confused when the ball carrier stood up with a ball also. Somehow the TV feed never picked up my ridiculous mishap. I've never confessed to this until now!
What is the greatest sporting event or individual performance outside the NFL that you saw in person –It was being courtside for LeBron James. He is the greatest overall athlete in sports history in my opinion. No one has ever been that big, that fast, that explosive, that skilled, etc.
What was your favorite team growing up and why –Dallas Cowboys. I had no choice.
Who was your favorite NFL player growing up and why –Troy Aikman. A great game manager and a proven winner. Every kid in Texas in the 1990's wanted to be like Troy. I was no different.
Who is the best pure athlete you have had as a teammate in Indianapolis –My pick will surprise people, but it was Billy Joe Hobert. I'm not sure if it was his ability to throw a football 70 yards or the day he took me to play golf and shot 65 that convinced me of this. It was probably both. He is very gifted.
Was there a person you wish you could have met during your career that you didn't get to meet? If so, who would was that and why did you want to meet him –I think I met everyone I wanted to. I was very blessed by many friends and acquaintances throughout my career.
What do you remember the most about Colts fans –I remember always being very proud of our fans. Nowhere in the NFL are the fans tenacious, loud, loyal, fun, AND classy like Indianapolis. Year in and year out, they were an incredible force behind us as a team. NO ONE wants to play against Indy in Indy. The fans have much to do with this.
Please describe what you currently are doing –My wife, Jennifer, and I love Indianapolis. We choose to make this our home because we love the people. Sure, there are warmer climates and places with more glitz. We've chosen to prioritize relationships above all the other factors. Our home is just outside of Indianapolis. I am now the lead singer for a band I founded upon retiring from the NFL. It's called, 'The Hunter Smith Band.' We are a country-rock band. We play all over but try to centralize our fan-base and shows in the Midwest, playing in our beloved Indiana whenever we get the chance. I also have a career in public speaking. Much of my speaking revolves around the book I wrote with Darrin Gray entitled, 'The Jersey Effect.' I speak at many other venues as well on a variety of topics. These are all just sub-plots to the 'main things' in my life, however. I am happily married and have four children from age eight to five months. Achieving in one of the world's great institutions has changed my perspective on life greatly. I have found that achievement and ambition can build a great corporation, sports franchise, or career but they can be hindrances to a good family life. Of course, this is all counter-intuitive to a lot of folks here in the West where we put talent and accomplishment above all else. There is nothing wrong with being good at what you do. There is, however, much wrong with being good at what you do if the means by which you excel compromise your commitment to relationships, family in particular. I am content to underachieve in the world's eyes if it means I become a great husband, father, and friend. With God's help excelling in these areas will be my crowning achievement in life.