There are 30 members on the Bills Wall of Fame. There are 10 Bills in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But there is only one Bills player to have his number retired… until now. Bills team President Russ Brandon announced on the team flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 Wednesday morning that Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith will have his iconic number 78 retired.
"We will be honoring Bruce Smith, one of the greatest players in Bills history, during our Thursday night home opener in a special halftime ceremony in which we'll retire his jersey number. On behalf of Kim and Terry Pegula and the entire Bills organization, we feel this is a tremendous opportunity to honor Bruce and his Hall of Fame career. We believe it's going to be a great night for Bruce and his family and Bills fans everywhere."
Smith becomes the second player in team annals to have his jersey number retired by the franchise joining fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Never again will jersey number 78 be worn by another Bills player.
"I'm humbled beyond words," said Smith. "Where this fits I think is right at the top with being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm very grateful and thankful."
Kelly's number 12 was retired in 2001. Fifteen years later his former teammate Bruce Smith will see his number 78 retired at the team's home opener on Thursday night Sept. 15th against the New York Jets.
Smith, who is widely viewed as the best defensive player in team history, is on the Bills Wall of Fame and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Having one's jersey number retired however, is the rarest of honors bestowed on a player.
"Russ Brandon and I had a number of conversations and I think a month ago he informed me this was going to happen," said Smith. "Thank you to the Pegulas because they have reached back into the rich history of the Buffalo Bills and they're making a concerted effort when it comes to recognizing that rich history. It's why they were an excellent fit to become the next owners of the Buffalo Bills."
The number one pick in the 1985 NFL draft, Smith put together an illustrious 19-year NFL career in which he became the league's all-time sack leader. He retired following the 2003 season with 200 career sacks, 163 of which came in a Bills uniform (1985-1999).
For those that had the good fortune of watching Smith play he hopes what sticks with them about his career is his drive to be one of the best defensive players in the history of the game.
"I want people to remember the effort and dedication and commitment that I put into playing this game," said Smith. "Trying to make the fans feel proud and give them a source of entertainment for three hours every week. Just that will to continue to get better and be a champion and be the best and bring that energy that was a missing piece to a great and historical sports town."
A core member of Buffalo's four consecutive AFC title teams in the early 90's, Smith was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996. He was an 11-time Pro bowl selection and was named First Team All-Pro eight times.
"Bruce Smith was 100 percent football player," said Kelly. "He was one of those guys when people talk about being the best, 'I want to be the best. I want to do this. I want to do that.' Bruce Smith was all about wanting to be the best possible football player he could be. He wanted to be the best that ever played, and pretty much, as I look at it, even though he was a teammate of mine, I think he definitely is one of the best defensive ends ever to play the game."