Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Darrell K. Smith: All-star Argo held a touchdown record

In eight CFL seasons, Darrell K. Smith scored 52 touchdowns, all with the Argos.

Toronto Argonauts Football Club

Rejected by American football teams, Darrell K. Smith came north to find a spot as a professional in a sport he had played since the age of five. His dazzling catches earned him all-star honours and made him a fan favourite with the Toronto Argonauts.

Mr. Smith, who died of cancer last month at the age of 55, enjoyed one of the greatest seasons for a pass receiver in Canadian Football League history, in 1990. The slotback and wide receiver scored 20 touchdowns (a record since surpassed) and accumulated 1,826 yards in receptions.

The athlete excelled when the Argos adopted a daring aerial attack, a sure-handed target for the likes of quarterbacks Gilbert Renfroe and Matt Dunigan. Confident in his own abilities, Mr. Smith chafed under the uninspiring, conservative tactics of coach Bob O'Billovich. Minor disputes with coaches became a feature of the latter part of his eight-season CFL career.

Story continues below advertisement

A speedy runner with an uncanny ability to make over-the-shoulder catches, the lean, 6-foot-2 receiver flourished in the wide-open Canadian game.

He helped the Argos win the Grey Cup in 1991 with a key catch late in the third quarter. The ring he was awarded as champion later figured in a court case after it was seized from a drug dealer. Mr. Smith struggled with a crack cocaine addiction for more than a decade after his playing days ended.

"Darrell had his wilderness experience," said Sherman Smith, an older brother who played in the National Football League. "He lost his way a little while. But he got straightened out."

Mr. Smith rediscovered his Christian faith. After renouncing drugs he decided to conduct inspirational seminars for youth to encourage them away from following a dissolute path. The news of the flashy player's death shocked CFL fans, as he had struggled in obscurity after leaving the game.

Darrell Karland Smith was born on Nov. 5, 1961, in Youngstown, Ohio. He was the youngest of three sons born to Lillie (née Beedles) and John Thomas Smith, who rose from working on the blast furnace in a steel mill to become an assistant to Lynn Williams, the Canadian who served as international president of the United Steelworkers union.

All three boys played football and basketball, while Darrell also starred at baseball.

The parents regarded sports as a privilege, not a right, so the boys needed to complete chores and maintain high grades before being allowed to play.

Story continues below advertisement

Darrell first played Pop Warner youth football at age five. In junior high school, he was a quarterback who performed so well he was offered a partial scholarship to attend Ursuline, a private Catholic high school.

Meanwhile, both his older brothers attended college in Ohio on football scholarships. Vincent attended the University of Mount Union, in Alliance, Ohio, while Sherman was recruited by Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. (Sherman Smith became a star running back as a rookie with the expansion Seattle Seahawks at the start of what would be an eight-season career as a player in the NFL.)

Darrell accepted an athletic scholarship to play for Central State University, a historically black college in Wilberforce, Ohio. He was coached by Billy Joe, a running back who played for the 1969 Super Bowl champion New York Jets.

"I wanted to go to Miami, like Sherman," Mr. Smith said at the time, "but coaches here told me, 'It's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in the ocean.' I decided I wanted to make my own shadow, not follow in my brother's."

His Marauders went 12-0 in his senior year with the wide receiver scoring 17 touchdowns. The team then lost the NCAA Division II title game to North Dakota State in the Palm Bowl played at McAllen, Tex., in 1983.

The receiver played games in NFL training camps for the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals, but failed to make a regular-season roster.

Story continues below advertisement

After signing with the Argos as a free agent in 1986, Mr. Smith made 36 catches in 11 games, including a 62-yard reception, a hint of the greatness to come. He scored 10 touchdowns the following season, when he received the first of five consecutive honours as an Eastern Conference all-star. Sportswriters used his middle initial to differentiate the rookie from a running back with the same name who had recently played in the league. In the 1991 Grey Cup game, he wore uniform No. 1 with the name D.K. Smith on his back.

The Argos were trailing late in the third quarter of that championship game when sore-shouldered quarterback Mr. Dunigan lobbed a long pass from midfield. Mr. Smith, running a post pattern, eluded two Calgary defenders to catch the ball at the seven-yard line before scoring a touchdown a few steps later.

Mr. Smith's key 48-yard catch was soon after overshadowed by a kickoff return touchdown scored by teammate Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, who was named the game's most valuable player, as the Argos went on to claim their first CFL title in eight seasons.

After the 1992 season, during which he was used sparingly, Mr. Smith was a central figure in a 15-player trade between the Argos and the Edmonton Eskimos. The Eskimos cut Mr. Smith after four games. He later signed with the Shreveport Pirates in Louisiana when the CFL expanded into the United States, but he did not play for the team.

In eight CFL seasons, Mr. Smith scored 52 touchdowns, all with the Argos.

His drug addiction came to public attention after a Toronto police officer was accused of theft for having seized the player's 1991 championship ring from a drug dealer. The constable was acquitted after testifying in court he intended to return the ring quietly to the player to avoid embarrassing him and the Argos.

Court was told Mr. Smith had used the ring as collateral in a $150 drug deal. The ring was abandoned when the drug dealer demanded $300 for its return.

The former athlete long sought work as a football coach with little success. He took a job with a roofing company in Atlanta.

Mr. Smith was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 13. He had surgery six weeks later to remove his spleen, kidney, pancreas and adrenal glands. On his three-month checkup, it was discovered the cancer had spread widely. He died in Atlanta on Feb. 13. He leaves brothers, Vincent Smith, of Tallahassee, Fla., and Sherman Smith, of Renton, Wash. He also leaves his fiancée, Sylvia Lawrence, as well as two sons from a previous marriage that ended in divorce.

Though frustrated by having lost prime years to addiction, Mr. Smith sought to warn youth of his own mistakes even after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"He finished strong," Sherman Smith said. "He had a desire to live a godly life and be a godly example to all those around him."

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at