By: Kate Manly, UF Communications
Before there was No. 22, the All-American and future NFL Most Valuable Player Emmitt Smith, there was another Smith making his mark at the University of Florida. Similar to Emmitt, this Smith was also a Gator All-American and compiled career, season and game records for rushing in the Florida record book.
From 1966-68, Larry Smith earned a name for himself as one of the most-talented tailbacks ever to don the Orange and Blue. An All-American in his final season at Florida (1968), Smith finished his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 2,186 yards, a mark that still stands eighth on the all-time list. His 24 career touchdowns place him ninth all-time for the Florida Gators and he led the squad in rushing three-straight seasons from 1966-68.
Born William Lawrence Smith in Tampa, Fla., Smith grew up to become one of the most highly-touted players in the history of Florida prep athletics. Before the age of scouting agencies and recruiting rankings, universities let the players’ performances do the advertising, and perform he did. Smith was a prep All-American, as well as a two-time all-state selection who led his Robinson High School Knights to their first state title game as a junior. He scored 47 touchdowns in high school, 29 of those coming in his senior season. Although Smith had his choice of virtually any college in the nation, including Ivy League powerhouse Princeton, he committed to Florida and from that day forward, would always be a Florida Gator, something Smith takes great pride in.
It didn’t take long for Smith to make an impact at Florida. He led the Southeastern Conference in rushing in his first year for the Gators, yet another feat that both of the Smiths share. He collected 742 yards on 162 carries and scored seven touchdowns in 1966.
But perhaps the most memorable moment of the 1966 season for Smith and Gator fans alike is also one of the most legendary plays in Florida football history. Although the 1967 Orange Bowl (1/1/67) may not have had major national implications, it was an important game for the Gators, who boasted an 8-2 record, but had just come off a loss to in-state rival Miami. Quarterback Steve Spurrier had just become the first Florida football player to win the Heisman Trophy and the Orange Bowl versus Georgia Tech would be his final game in Orange and Blue. The Gators needed a big play to shift the momentum in their favor with a one-point lead after halftime. Playing in his first major bowl game, Smith was able to step up and make that much-needed play, only it didn’t turn out the way he may have planned.
With the aid of a few crucial blocks, Smith was able to carry the ball 94 yards for a touchdown. Halfway through the rush, Smith’s pants began to slide down. Luckily for him and Gator fans, he was able to make it to the end zone before his pants slid completely off. It is important to note that there was some controversy as to whether or not it was his pants that were falling down.
“The true story is going to come out now,” Smith once proclaimed when discussing the infamous play. “My pants never came off. My hip pads slipped a little bit, but my pants did not. It was more of an illusion.”
Although the specifics of the play remain uncertain, the breakout performance by Smith in the Orange Bowl was crystal clear. The 94-yard touchdown run in the third quarter set an Orange Bowl record for longest rush from scrimmage, a mark that stands to this day. With his 187 yards rushing, 28 yards on two receptions and a pair of kickoff returns for 44 yards, Smith was an obvious choice for Most Valuable Player distinction following the 27-12 victory over the eighth-ranked Yellow Jackets.
Smith went on to have a successful career at tailback for Florida. At the time, he was only the fifth offensive back in SEC history to claim first-team All-SEC selection for three-consecutive years. It came as no surprise that the Los Angeles Rams selected Smith as their top draft choice in the 1969 National Football League Draft with the eighth overall pick. He remained with the Rams until his final season in the league, when he was a member of the Washington Redskins. Although nagging injuries forced him to retire in 1975, Smith amassed over 3,000 yards of offense in six seasons in the NFL.
In the off-season following his rookie season with the Rams, Smith returned to Florida to finish up all of the necessary requirements to receive a degree. In 1970, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business. Not long after, Smith began to pursue a master’s degree in business administration and received his MBA in 1975, the same year that he retired from the NFL.
Following stints at the First National Bank of Florida and Tampa Sports Authority, Smith made the decision that his future would be in law. He received his law degree from Stetson University in 1982 after graduating cum laude. He has been an attorney for Hill, Ward and Henderson, based in Tampa, since 1987. He is currently a shareholder in the firm's Real Estate Development and Finance Group. His practice primarily involves mortgage lending, both construction and permanent, purchase and sale transactions, option transactions, title insurance, restrictive covenants and homeowner associations.
Smith is also very active in the Tampa community, an area in which he was born and raised. He serves as the vice chairman of The Salvation Army Advisory Board, a group charged with advising and assisting The Salvation Army in all of its activities in the Tampa/Hillsborough community and is also a contributor to Tampa General Hospital.
Smith is a true success story and he has a standing invitation from UF head coach Urban Meyer to return to The Swamp to share the lessons that he has experienced at Florida, in the NFL and in the professional world.
From high school standout to Orange Bowl MVP to attorney and philanthropist, Smith sure makes it “Great to be a Florida Gator.”