J.D. Smith is proof that a team doesn't always need a first-round draft choice to obtain first-round talent. Having traded their selection in the opening round of the 1959 NFL draft to Los Angeles, the Eagles chose the 6-foot-5, 250-pound offensive tackle from Rice University with their second-round selection, which was 15th overall.
"I was excited about it," said Smith. "I was hoping of course you'd get more money for playing football, but the only other place you could go at that time when I was drafted was to Canada. And it just so happened that Canada offered me the same thing that (Eagles general manager) Vince McNally offered, so I chose to go to the Eagles, of course."
While Buck Shaw may have been the coach patrolling the sideline when Smith arrived in Philadelphia and became the starter at right tackle, 11-year veteran quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was, for all intents and purposes, the coach on the field.
"We had so much respect for Van Brocklin," Smith said. "He looked after all of us, rookies and veterans alike. I heard all these stories about how mean he was and all that, but I don't remember him that way at all. We were really a tight knit group."
After opening the 1960 season with a loss to Cleveland, that "tight knit group" won nine consecutive games and finished with a 10-2 record, earning the Eagles the Eastern Division title for the first time in 11 years.
Hosting Green Bay in the NFL Championship Game in front of 67,325 fans at Franklin Field a day after Christmas, the Eagles trailed by three points in the fourth quarter after Packers quarterback Bart Starr tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Max McGee. However, on the ensuing kickoff, Ted Dean returned the ball 58 yards. That set up his game-winning 5-yard touchdown run as Philadelphia won, 17-13.
"I remember being very excited right at the end of the game when we had a chance to win it because the Packers were such a great team that you weren't sure that we could beat them," Smith said. "But when they came into town saying that we didn't have a running game so we didn't have a chance to win the game … We really beat them running [the ball]. That's how we beat them when you got right down to it. We ran the kickoff return back to their end of the field and that allowed us to score.
"I was the captain of the kickoff return wedge. When we went into the huddle before they kicked the ball to us, I told the guys, 'To have a chance to win this game we've got to get it back up the field!' And so we did. I think we took it right back up the middle. Everybody got a block. We got a good return on it and went on to score. I don't think we would have won the game if we hadn't have got that return."
Smith was selected to the Pro Bowl the following season, but was unable to play in it because he had suffered a broken leg during the Playoff Bowl loss to Detroit. He ended up being with the Eagles for five seasons and says winning the championship is just one of the fond memories he has from that time.
"Philadelphia was a place in those years where you could walk downtown when we were winning, and everyone knew who you were and they were waving at you across the street. It was a great feeling. Any bar you went into you didn't have to buy a beer, they always bought it for you," Smith laughed. "I still have a love for Philadelphia. (My wife) Melanie and I have been back several times and we just love the city."
Smith retired from football in 1967 after two seasons with Detroit and returned with his family to J.D.'s hometown of Richland Springs, Texas, where he got involved in the grain harvesting business and began to build what would become a 2,500-acre ranch. Then in 1988, he co-founded the Santanna Natural Gas Company [now Santanna Energy].
"I was the vice president. I went into business with three other guys, and we started it in Norman, Oklahoma, and then moved it to Austin, Texas. We decided to move it to Austin instead of Houston, the energy center, because it was close to my ranch and both of my partners loved to hunt and fish. And we did everything by phone and fax and computers anyway."
Now retired for the second time, Smith and his wife live in Austin, where they spend time with their children and grandchildren, and at the ranch, where he still enjoys hunting and fishing.
"My ranch is in San Saba County, which is right in the middle of Texas. We call it 'Heart of Texas Country.' The county has probably 5,000 people in it. We've got two red lights in the whole county, and one we don't really need. I don't know why they put it up," Smith said with a laugh. "My nearest neighbor is probably three-quarters of a mile from the house."