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Original Issue

It's Good To Be Home The defensive end returned to his roots in search of the alltime sacks record

When I was growing up, the only pro sports team in my home state
was the Virginia Squires of the old American Basketball
Association. One of my first sports memories is of the Squires
coming to visit my school in Norfolk, when I was in the fifth
grade. I was in awe at meeting my sports hero, Dr. J, Julius
Erving. I couldn't believe it. ¶ That sort of thrill was rare in
the Old Dominion State. Pro sports just weren't a big part of
people's lives--especially after the Squires folded in 1976. The
team most Virginians supported was the Washington Redskins
because D.C. was so close. At least 80% of the people in the
Virginia Beach-Norfolk area were Skins fans. Oh, you had a few
people who strayed and rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers or
the Dallas Cowboys ... like me. The Steelers were my team. As
you might have guessed, I liked their defense.

I was overweight as a kid, so I played only street football. But
I couldn't resist the sport for long. High school football brings
Virginia towns alive, as it should, considering some of the
players the state has produced: Michael Vick, Allen Iverson (he
was a great high school quarterback), Lawrence Taylor, Aaron
Brooks. I decided I was definitely going to play when I got to
Booker T. Washington High. And play I did--both ways.

When it came time for college, I had offers from several major
schools around the country, but I wasn't going to leave Virginia.
My father, George, was very sick, and I wanted to be close to
home. The University of Virginia might have been the natural
place to go, but a scout from the school told my coach that my
feet were too slow (I wonder where he is now), so I ended up at
Virginia Tech. People would always come up and ask me why I was
there, but to me it was the right place to be. I guess I helped
put the Hokies on the map, and I got to see how intense my home
staters are about the Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry. It's like
Redskins-Cowboys or Buffalo Bills-Miami Dolphins. Experiencing
that sort of intensity prepared me for the next level.

Even when I got to the NFL, with Buffalo in 1985, I would come
home every off-season. I wanted to stay close to my roots, and I
enjoy the amenities Virginia has to offer, like golf and fishing
and the rest. The weather, except for the occasional hurricane,
is great at least nine months of the year, and there's always a
beach to escape to. I have a house on the water that would be
three times as costly if I lived in, say, California or Florida.
Virginia is East Coast, but it's not: It has a Southernness to
it, though it's not full-blown. We enjoy good cooking and good
manners, but it's not the Deep, Deep South. Now, when it comes to
social issues like racism, could it get better? Yes. But
Virginians are a wonderful, laid-back people. They respect their
neighbors' privacy. I live in the same area where I grew up, and
while I may be a little biased, I wouldn't trade my neighborhood,
or my neighbors, for anything.

Those people are the reason that, when my career with the Bills
was ending, I wanted to play for the Redskins, in front of the
home fans. I need only two sacks to break the NFL career record,
and it would be great if I could do it with a sack that helps to
wrap up the NFC East title at FedExField. I get chills just
thinking about how loud the crowd there is and how important the
team is to its fans. It'd be a perfect way to give something back
to them.

I have a responsibility to speak up and speak out on behalf of
Virginia now that I'm one of my sport's ambassadors--like Julius
Erving was in his sport all those years ago. It's funny, but I
shared that fifth-grade story with Julius, and we both laughed
about it. It's amazing how one moment can leave such a lasting
impression on someone's life.

But I learned a more important lesson growing up in Virginia,
watching my father, who died in 2000, go to his job every day. A
chance meeting with an idol can be a big event in someone's life,
but the people who are there for you every day--those are the
real heroes.

The Washington Redskins' Bruce Smith, a Norfolk native, was the
No. 1 pick in the 1985 draft, out of Virginia Tech.