Jim Brown was arguably the greatest running back in NFL history.
As great as Brown was, his performance was enhanced by playing with various quality offensive linemen on the Cleveland Browns.
One such excellent offensive lineman for Cleveland was Jim Ray Smith.
Smith received numerous All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and All-Conference honors, while blocking for Brown, Bobby Mitchell, and other offensive players on the Browns in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
2nd TTM return today is from former Browns Guard Jim Ray Smith! Thank you Mr Smith! @WaxPack916 @DOCBZ17 @AlexK245 @CeeMX97 @MyPenIsHugeTTM @autographblog @TTM_Todd @MikeSorenson1 @pintandrew @Sabres_Bills_NY @tommys54321 @DubMentality @GundersonNathan pic.twitter.com/a9efnKxatl
— Cliff (@oriolesrise) March 20, 2020
We take a look at the life of Jim Ray Smith – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
James Ray Smith was born on February 27, 1932 in West Columbia, Texas.
West Columbia is located in southeastern Texas, about 55 miles from Houston.
While Smith was growing up, West Columbia had a population of less than 2,000 people.
Smith attended Columbia High School in West Columbia from 1946 to 1950.
He lettered in four sports at Columbia High School – football, baseball, basketball, and track.
In football, Smith played fullback at Columbia High School.
Former Columbia High School football coach Charlie Brand recalled Smith, as follows:
“He was a heck of a football player and a great guy. I was a freshman and he was a senior, but he played in all of the sports and was just a great athlete. His coach was Flash Walker, and while he was here we called him James Ray Smith until he left, and then they started calling him Jim Ray. One couldn’t ask for a better person.”
Smith played in the North-South High School All-Star Football Game in his senior year.
When Smith received a scholarship to attend Baylor University for college, it was a key point in his life.
“My mother always wanted me to finish high school. No one in my family on either side had gone past the sixth grade. Well, my brother and I and my sister all graduated from high school and we went on to college and got our degree. If it hadn’t been for football, I would never have gone to college without a scholarship.”
Smith left West Columbia and headed to Waco, Texas to attend Baylor.
Smith played football at Baylor for three years from 1952 to 1954.
He played both offensive tackle and defensive tackle at Baylor.
Baylor had a 4-4-2 record in 1952.
In 1953, Smith was named All-American at tackle by the American Football Coaches Association, second team All-American at tackle by United Press, and third team All-American at tackle by the Associated Press.
He was also named first team All-Southwest Conference at tackle by the Associated Press and United Press in 1953.
Baylor posted a 7-3 record in 1953.
In recalling the 1953 season, Smith stated:
“We beat Cal 25-0 that year, and they were rated like No. 3 in the nation. It was my junior year and there we are, all 11 of us in New York with a big to-do with Ed Sullivan. You know at one point I was thinking about not going to college, and all of a sudden there you are. I thought I’d be a roughneck or dig ditches for the rest of my life.”
Smith was a team captain for Baylor in 1954.
In 1954, Smith was named second team All-American at tackle by the Associated Press and United Press.
He again was also named first team All-Southwest Conference at tackle by the Associated Press and United Press in 1954.
Baylor had a 7-4 record in 1954 (including a 33-13 loss to Auburn in the Gator Bowl on December 31, 1954) and was ranked 18th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
Smith played in the 1955 Senior Bowl.
He also played in the 1955 College All-Star Game on August 12, 1955, helping the College All-Stars defeat the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns 30-27.
It is an interesting coincidence that Smith’s last game as a college football player was against the team for which he would next play in the NFL.
The Pro Football Years
Smith had been drafted in the sixth round of the 1954 NFL draft (as the 64th overall pick) by the Cleveland Browns.
It was a sign of how positively the Browns viewed Smith that he was a “future” draft pick in 1954; the Browns drafted Smith in 1954 even though he was to still play at Baylor in 1954 and could not join the Browns until the 1955 season.
In fact, another issue was to delay Smith joining Cleveland until the 1956 season – military service.
He served in the U.S. Army in 1955 and 1956.
Smith explained how he finally joined Cleveland in the middle of the 1956 season:
“I took a 30-day leave during training camp to see if I could make the Browns. I did, but I sprained my ankle during an exhibition game in California. They said, ‘Why don’t you go back to the Army until you get that well. Then we will bring you on up.’ There were six or seven games left when they said, ‘Well, we will bring you back now.’ I took another leave to finish out the 1956 season. I think it was the Philadelphia game in Philadelphia that I took a flight back to Fayetteville, North Carolina when I mustered out of the Army. Then I went back to Cleveland and finished out the season.”
The Browns were not entirely certain at first whether to play Smith on offense or defense.
The initial thought was that Smith would play on defense.
“I had gone to Cleveland to take Lenny [Ford’s] [Cleveland’s future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end, Len Ford’s] place. I weighed 218 pounds. Of course, Lenny weighed about 265 and was 6’4” or 6’5”.”
In addition, the Browns also saw Smith as a potential offensive lineman based on his play against them at offensive tackle in the 1955 College All-Star Game.
“[The Cleveland Browns] thought they saw something there as an offensive lineman instead of a defensive end. When I went to camp in 1956, I was a defensive end, but they made me learn all of the offensive guard plays.”
As a rookie in 1956, Smith played in six regular season games at defensive end.
The two-time defending NFL champion Browns fell to a 5-7 record in 1956.
However, Smith contributed to Cleveland’s defense remaining a top unit, as it ranked in the NFL regular season in 1956 first in fewest points allowed (177), second in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,135), and first in fewest passing yards allowed (1,103).
In 1957, Browns head coach Paul Brown decided to shift Smith from defensive end to offensive guard.
Smith was what was known as a “messenger guard” in 1957; he would rotate with another guard (generally Herschel Forester) and bring plays into the huddle from Paul Brown to the Cleveland quarterback.
In 1957, Smith played in all 12, and started six, regular season games at right guard.
Smith was part of a Browns offensive line that helped Cleveland rush for over 200 yards in three regular season games in 1957 – 231 yards in a 21-17 Browns win over the Washington Redskins on November 3, 1957, 330 yards in a 45-31 Cleveland victory against the Los Angeles Rams on November 24, 1957, and 298 yards in a 34-28 Browns defeat of the New York Giants on December 15, 1957.
In the Cleveland win over the Rams on November 24, 1957, Browns rookie and future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown rushed for 237 yards and four touchdowns on 31 rushing attempts.
During the first six years of Jim Brown’s NFL career, Smith was one of the Cleveland offensive linemen who contributed to Brown’s success.
Brown led the NFL in regular season rushing yards in five of the six seasons that he played with Smith (five consecutive years from 1957 through 1961).
“I was there in ’56 and Jim [Brown] came in ’57. As a pulling guard, you went out to block for him. We would get together to talk about what we were going to do in different situations.”
Smith was named first team All-Conference by Sporting News in 1957.
The Browns rebounded in 1957, winning the East Division with a 9-2-1 regular season record.
Smith contributed to Cleveland’s offense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1957 third in points scored (269), third in fewest sacks allowed (20), second in rushing yards (1,958), and first in rushing touchdowns (19).
Cleveland advanced to the 1957 NFL championship game against the Detroit Lions on December 29, 1957.
Smith played in, but did not start, the game.
The Browns rushed for 218 yards in the championship game, but lost to Detroit 59-14.
In 1958, Smith reported to Browns training camp having bulked up to 250 pounds.
He became Cleveland’s full-time starter at left guard, starting all 12 regular season games in 1958.
Cleveland defeated the Los Angeles Rams 30-27 in the opening game of the 1958 regular season on September 28, 1958.
Smith helped Cleveland rush for 257 yards in the game, including 171 yards and two touchdowns on 24 rushing attempts by Jim Brown.
On October 12, 1958, with Smith’s play, the Browns rushed for 332 yards, including 182 yards and three touchdowns on 34 rushing attempts by Jim Brown and 147 yards and one touchdown on 11 rushing attempts by Browns rookie and future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell, as Cleveland defeated the Chicago Cardinals 35-28.
Two weeks later, in a rematch with the Cardinals, Smith helped Cleveland rush for 266 yards, including 180 yards and four touchdowns on 24 rushing attempts by Jim Brown.
Cleveland again defeated Chicago, this time by a score of 38-24.
On December 7, 1958, Smith’s blocking contributed to Cleveland rushing for 250 yards, including 138 yards on 21 rushing attempts by Jim Brown and 100 yards on 21 rushing attempts by Cleveland running back Lew Carpenter, as the Browns defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 21-14.
With Smith at right guard, Jim Brown led the NFL in 1958 with both 1,527 regular season rushing yards and 17 regular season rushing touchdowns.
One of the best rushing plays for Jim Brown was a sweep, with Smith blocking.
“He’d run out and I’d tell him to slow down a bit. I’d say, ‘Let me knock the guy on his can and you cut behind me.’ . . . That’s something people don’t teach now. The lineman and the running back need to be talking all the time.”
Smith recovered a fumble and ran with it for 13 yards in 1958.
In 1958, Smith received his first Pro Bowl invitation.
He was also named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first team All-Conference by Sporting News, in 1958.
The Browns tied for first place in the East Division with the New York Giants in 1958, with a 9-3 regular season record.
Smith helped Cleveland’s offense rank in the NFL regular season in 1958 third in points scored (302), first in rushing yards (2,526), tied for first in rushing touchdowns (24), and first in average rushing yards per rushing attempt (5.3).
The Browns played a “tiebreaker” playoff game with New York on December 21, 1958.
Smith started the game at left guard (the only playoff game he started in the NFL), but Cleveland lost to the Giants 10-0.
In 1959, Smith played in 12, and started 10, regular season games at left guard.
On November 1, 1959, Smith’s play helped Cleveland defeat the 1958 and 1959 NFL champion Baltimore Colts 38-31.
Cleveland rushed for 197 yards, including 178 yards and five touchdowns on 32 rushing attempts by Jim Brown.
Smith was part of a Browns offensive line that helped Cleveland rush for over 200 yards in two regular season games in 1959 – 276 yards in a 31-17 Browns victory over the Washington Redskins on November 15, 1959 (Bobby Mitchell rushed for 232 yards and three touchdowns on 14 rushing attempts in the game), and 296 yards in a 28-21 Cleveland defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles on December 13, 1959 (Jim Brown rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 33 rushing attempts, and Mitchell rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown on 24 rushing attempts, in the game).
In 1959, Smith was named NFL All-Pro.
He also received his second consecutive Pro Bowl invitation.
In addition, Smith was named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first team All-Conference by Sporting News, in 1959.
Cleveland missed the playoffs with a 7-5 regular season record in 1959.
Smith contributed to Cleveland’s offense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1959 third in points scored (270), first in rushing yards (2,149), first in rushing touchdowns (20), and tied for second in average rushing yards per rushing attempt (4.7).
Smith started all 12 regular season games at left guard in 1960.
In the opening game of the 1960 regular season, Smith helped Cleveland rush for 329 yards, including 156 yards and two touchdowns on 14 rushing attempts by Bobby Mitchell and 153 yards and one touchdown on 24 rushing attempts by Jim Brown, as Cleveland defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 41-24 on September 25, 1960.
On November 13, 1960, with Smith’s play, the Browns rushed for 234 yards, including 173 yards and two touchdowns on 28 rushing attempts by Jim Brown, in a 28-27 Cleveland victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
While the Browns offense is generally associated with rushing while Smith played, there were various games during Smith’s career with Cleveland when most of the offense’s total yards came from passing.
For example, on December 18, 1960, Smith’s play helped Browns quarterback Milt Plum throw for 296 yards and four touchdowns, in a 48-34 Cleveland win over the New York Giants; Plum was not sacked in the game.
In 1960, Smith recovered a fumble.
Smith was named NFL All-Pro for the second consecutive year in 1960.
In addition, he received his third consecutive Pro Bowl invitation.
He was also named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first team All-Conference by Sporting News, in 1960.
One of the key reasons for Smith’s success was his exceptional speed for an offensive lineman.
During one Browns training camp, Smith was timed as the third-fastest player for Cleveland, behind only Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell.
Smith had the same time in the 40-yard dash as his roommate, Browns wide receiver Ray Renfro (whose nickname was “Rabbit” because of his speed).
Cleveland had an 8-3-1 regular season record in 1960, but missed the playoffs.
Smith’s play at left guard helped Cleveland’s offense rank in the NFL regular season in 1960 first in points scored (362), third in passing touchdowns (22), third in rushing yards (1,930), third in rushing touchdowns (18), and first in average rushing yards per rushing attempt (5.0).
In 1961, Smith started all 14 regular season games at left guard.
On October 22, 1961, in a 30-28 Browns victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smith helped Cleveland rush for 229 yards, including 119 yards and three touchdowns on 14 rushing attempts by Bobby Mitchell and 114 yards on 29 rushing attempts by Jim Brown.
The following week, on October 29, 1961, with Smith at left guard, Jim Brown (109 yards on 28 rushing attempts) and Bobby Mitchell (104 yards and one touchdown on 19 rushing attempts) again both rushed for over 100 yards, as Cleveland defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 21-10. The Browns rushed for 224 yards in the game.
In a 45-24 Cleveland win over the Philadelphia Eagles on November 19, 1961, Smith’s play helped the Browns rush for 259 yards, including 237 yards and four touchdowns on 34 rushing attempts by Jim Brown.
For the third consecutive year, Smith was named NFL All-Pro in 1961.
He also received his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl invitation.
In addition, Smith was named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, New York Daily News, and United Press International, and first team All-Conference by Sporting News, in 1961.
In 1961, the Browns posted an 8-5-1 record and failed to make the playoffs.
Cleveland’s offense, helped by Smith’s play, ranked in the NFL regular season in 1961 second in fewest sacks allowed (21) and second in rushing yards (2,163).
After the 1961 season, Smith contemplated retirement, but he was convinced to play in 1962 for Cleveland.
He played in and started 13 regular season games in 1962 at left guard.
Smith was part of a Browns offensive line that helped Cleveland score over 30 points in four regular season games in 1962 – a 34-7 Cleveland victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on October 21, 1962 (Cleveland quarterback Jim Ninowski threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns in the game), a 41-14 Browns win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28, 1962 (Cleveland rushed for 200 yards in the game), a 38-14 Cleveland defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals on November 18, 1962 (Jim Brown rushed for four touchdowns in the game), and a 35-14 Browns victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 25, 1962 (Browns quarterback Frank Ryan threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns in the game).
Smith received his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl invitation in 1962.
He was also named first team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, second team All-Pro by the Associated Press and United Press International, and first team All-Conference by Sporting News, in 1962.
With a 7-6-1 record in 1962, Cleveland missed the playoffs.
Smith contributed to Cleveland’s offense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1962 second in fewest sacks allowed (27) and third in rushing touchdowns (18).
Smith again contemplated retirement after the 1962 season.
The Dallas Cowboys convinced Smith to continue to play for his home state team, and the Browns traded Smith to Dallas for tackle Monte Clark on April 30, 1963.
Smith played for the Cowboys in 1963 and 1964.
Because of injuries, Smith only played for Dallas in eight regular season games in 1963 and in four regular season games in 1964.
He retired from the NFL after the 1964 season.
The Years After the NFL
Smith was married to Paula.
He had three children.
While he was still playing, Smith first became involved in real estate in the Dallas area.
Smith continued to work in real estate after his retirement from the NFL, forming a real estate business, Jim Ray Smith Properties Inc.
The business focused on commercial real estate, including leasing, warehouse development, and brokerage activities.
In addition to his real estate business, Smith was active in the community.
Bumped into the legendary Baylor, Browns and Cowboys great Jim Ray Smith at lunch. Still an imposing guy at 86. pic.twitter.com/TEylwzbh7I
— Matt Mosley (@mattmosley) May 18, 2018
Former Baylor Athletic Director Bill Menefee said about Smith:
“He was not only a great football player, but he has always been an outstanding citizen who contributes to his community.”
Among Smith’s community activities were that he worked in the Baylor Chamber of Commerce and was President of the Cotton Bowl Association and of the Baylor Lettermen’s Club.
In 1968, Smith was inducted into the Baylor University Athletics Hall of Fame.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
In 2005, Smith was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program.
He was inducted into the Columbia-Brazoria Independent School District Hall of Honor in 2007.
In 2008, Smith was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
It is always difficult to evaluate the careers of offensive linemen because of limited statistical information.
However, by two standards, Smith had an excellent career.
First, Smith received numerous postseason honors while he played.
He was a three-time NFL All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl invitee.
He received other All-Pro and/or All-Conference honors in each year from 1957 to 1962.
Second, as every team seeks from its offensive linemen, Smith enhanced the play of other offensive skill position players on the Browns.
The obvious example of this point is Jim Brown.
In addition, Bobby Mitchell and other Browns offensive players (including Lew Carpenter, Milt Plum, Jim Ninowski, and Frank Ryan, as described above) had better games because of the performance of Smith.
Smith may be forgotten by Browns fans because he played only six full seasons with Cleveland and just missed both the three Browns NFL championship teams of 1950, 1954, and 1955 and the Browns championship team of 1964.
However, for his many All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and All-Conference honors and his role in helping Jim Brown and other Browns offensive players excel, Jim Ray Smith should be recognized as one of the greatest offensive linemen in Cleveland Browns history.