The Philadelphia Eagles may not have had a selection in the opening round of the 1959 NFL Draft, but they were still able to choose a player with first-round talent in Rice offensive tackle J.D. Smith.
"I was excited about it," said Smith, who was selected in the second round at No. 15 overall. "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 head coach when Smith arrived in Philadelphia, 11-year veteran quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was, for all intents and purposes, calling all the shots and in charge of the offense.
"We had so much respect for Van Brocklin," said Smith, who started at right tackle as a rookie. "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."
The "tight-knit group" put together a nine-game winning streak during the 1960 season 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 at Franklin Field the 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."
Selected to the Pro Bowl the following season, Smith was unable to play in it because he had suffered a broken leg during the Playoff Bowl loss to Detroit. He would spend five seasons with the Eagles 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 the NFL in 1967 after two seasons with Detroit and returned to his 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. In 1988, he co-founded the Santanna Natural Gas Company (now Santanna Energy).
"I was the vice president," Smith said. "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 split time between a home near their family in Austin and a ranch near Richland Springs.
"Our ranch is five miles out of the city limits, and that town has 300 people in it," Smith said. "We used to brag that we only had one red light in the county, but recently, they put another one by the schoolhouse. So it kind of hurt my feelings. I always liked telling everybody how rural we really are out here."
Smith's son, Ron, is an oil and gas analyst for Citibank in Moscow, Russia. He also has a home in Austin. And his daughter, Laura Kennedy, is a registered nurse at the Travis County Jail in Austin. He has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.