McDonough 35/University of Nebraska/NFL
Born in New Orleans in April 1966, Neil Smith learned at a young age that football could be his ticket to success, but his road included peaks and valleys.
As a LB/DE in high school, he was considered a “sleeper” among college recruiters. He felt like he had something to prove. If he could succeed at being the first football player out of McDonogh 35 to “hit it big”, he felt he could open doors for others to follow.
He grew into an All-District performer for the Roneagles while trying to emulate his childhood idol, Dallas Cowboys DE Too Tall Jones. College offers weren’t plentiful, but Southern University, Grambling, Alcorn and Nebraska came calling.
He chose the Cornhuskers and completed his career as a first team All American and was named to the Cornhuskers All-Century Team. In the 1988 NFL Draft he was chosen second overall in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs (behind the Falcons’ Aundray Bruce).
During his 13-year NFL career, he was selected to the Pro Bowl six times. He led the NFL in sacks for the 1993 season with 15. Following his departure from the Chiefs, Smith helped the Denver Broncos win back to back Super Bowl titles (Super Bowl XXXII beating Green Bay and Super Bowl XXXIII topping the Falcons).
Smith accumulated 105 career sacks. At the time of his 100th sack (1997) only 16 players in NFL history had reached that plateau.
For good measure, Smith recorded 12 fumble recoveries, including one returned 90 yards for a Denver touchdown against the Jaguars during the 1996 playoffs. He also had 4 interceptions, returning one for a score against Seattle.
He absorbed triple-team blocking throughout an entire game in 1990 against Seattle, enabling teammate Derrick Thomas to record an NFL record seven sacks in a single contest.
Smith is a member of the 1990 NFL All Decade Team. Currently, he is a restaurant owner in Kansas City and co-owner of the K.C. Brigade of the Arena Football League.