Fred Smerlas

Fred Smerlas

Buffalo Bills Nose Tackle

Throughout their history, the best Buffalo Bills teams have always been anchored by their defense. Fittingly, the Bills’ rise to power in the late 1970s was fueled by a young, aggressive defense. When the Bills drafted Boston College defensive tackle Fred Smerlas in the second round in 1979, they added a key element to a squad poised for the playoff appearances which followed in the next two seasons.
Smerlas was chosen as an NFL All-Rookie selection for 1979 by several publications. The next season, he meshed with linebackers Shane Nelson and Jim Haslett to form the famed and feared “Bermuda Triangle,” so named because once opposing ball-carriers entered the domain of these defenders, they seldom emerged. The Bills’ defense ranked first in the NFL that season and sparked the team to its first division title since 1966.

The Bills innovative defense of the early 1980s was known as the “3-4,” and featured Smerlas as the nose tackle (aptly named). Smerlas endured double-team blocking most Sundays, but Smerlas’ contributions to this scheme made the entire defense more effective.

Lean years beset the team in the mid-1980s, but Smerlas persevered through them all, earning five Pro-Bowl appearances and All-Pro selections from 1982 to 1986. In 1988, the veteran Smerlas factored heavily in a Bills’ defense which propelled the team to the first of four consecutive American Football Conference Eastern Division championships. Perhaps the single play for which Fred is best remembered was his block of a potential game-winning field goal by the New York Jets on the day the Bills eventually prevailed in overtime to clinch the 1988 Division crown.

For over a decade, Fred Smerlas provided not only outstanding play on the field but an outgoing personal style which inspired and motivated teammates and kept fans entertained. Fred was never at a loss for a quote, and he was certainly one of the more colorful characters ever to wear the red, white and blue. Never was Fred’s unabashed exuberance more evident than during the memorable “chorus line” curtain call which followed a 1980 overtime victory over the Rams at Rich Stadium. It is with the same enthusiasm which Buffalo fans will certainly embrace Fred’s induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.