I was still riding IV poles down the hallways at Roswell Park when Fred Smerlas came to town in 1979 to play for the Buffalo Bills. Seems like yesterday when this big hairy dude blew into Buffalo like a raging blizzard and tore up the place. For me, it was love at first sight.
My admiration and respect only grew after enjoying a conversation with Mr. Smerlas on Monday morning, after the Bills defeated the Steelers on Sunday Night Football to clinch a playoff berth. You see, the original intent of our conversation was to let everyone know Fred’s having a party on Saturday before (and after) the Bills play the Patriots this upcoming Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Y’all are invited to attend and he guarantees a great time despite being in the land of the enemy.
So for anyone making the trip to Foxborough for the game, have a ‘lookie’ at what kind of spread the All Pro Productions group puts out on game day. If I was in the area for the game, I would be there just for the chance to share some giggles with other Bills fans and even the Patriots fans in attendance. Mr. Smerlas promises they aren’t even obnoxious. We’ll take him at his word for now ;)
Some of you reading this may be too young to remember Fred Smerlas’ playing days, but for those of us who do, it’s a real treat to reconnect with that era in Bills football. Smerlas was a nightmare nose tackle with a bad attitude on the field and larger than life personality off of it.
He was my favorite player during the years he played for the Bills, so getting a chance to talk with him was a real treat for this old fart. One thing you will find out immediately upon meeting Mr. Smerlas (even over the phone) is that he is incapable of doling out bullshit. His opinions are straight from his gigantic heart.
One of the most enjoyable things for me talking with Fred is how much he substantiated all the theories I had about what was going on with those Bills teams during that era. Many of my suspicions about decisions that were made by the front office and ownership were definitely validated.
However, the one portion of our conversation I will laughingly take to my grave was Smerlas’ take on our old friend Coach Hank Bullough. He was quick to be respectful of speaking ill of the recently dead (RIP), and then launched into a tirade I will cherish to the day I die.
Though I can’t repeat most of it here, suffice it to state that if you had any disrespect for Hank Bullough as a coach in the past, there was nothing said that wouldn’t confirm your suspicions. It was truly a joyful experience to listen to a legend share what was really going on behind the scenes during that time.
What surprised me even more was when our conversation turned to the subject of his work with cancer treatment organizations after being diagnosed with prostate cancer at 50 years of age. He explained how the disease has ravaged many men in his family over the years and his views about how men need to be more open about how they deal with the emotional aspects of the entire experience.
Those of you who know me are probably chuckling right now because you KNOW that was music to my ears. Fred Smerlas understands the importance of how to take care of yourself after a cancer diagnosis and treatment and how to remain healthy afterward.
It doesn’t surprise me one bit Fred is doing so well and serving as a role model and mentor for others facing the scourge of cancer. His compassion for others is as big as he is.
I feel blessed our paths connected because it warms my heart to see the work I so passionately promoted since those days riding IV poles at Roswell Park are coming to fruition this century.
It’s amazing how technology affords the opportunity for an old lady in Wyoming to connect with a former Bills player I admired for many years… only to find we have far more in common than ever imagined and it has nothing to do with football. Felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend.
So if you’re out and about in Foxborough on Saturday looking for a high end tailgate experience to check out, Fred’s your man. I look forward to meeting him in person one day. If you do check it out, be sure to post pictures on Twitter so we can get them up on the blog.
Oh, and just don’t ask Mr. Smerlas about who he wants to win the Bills/Pats game on Saturday. He says it’s like trying to choose between two of your children.
He might not want to takes sides, but I do. Go Bills!
Editor’s babble: So grateful to Del Reid for connecting me with Mr. Smerlas for this interview. Though I live like a recluse in Wyoming, I can be found on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.