PRO FOOTBALL

ECW grad, former Bears' return standout Ron Smith dead at age 70

2013-06-03T18:00:00Z 2013-09-16T18:57:22Z ECW grad, former Bears' return standout Ron Smith dead at age 70Al Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
June 03, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

Ron Smith was a walking contradiction, extremely proud of his athletic prowess but as private as an island paradise.

The 1961 East Chicago Washington grad enjoyed a 10-year career in the NFL, including four seasons as a standout return man with the Bears (1965, 1970-72).

He ranks eighth on the team in total kickoff yardage (2,263) and 14th in career punt return yardage (485).

Smith was at his best on kickoffs, averaging 26.6 yards on 85 returns.

Nicknamed "The Gingerbread Man" because of his quickness and speed, he had two career punt return touchdowns and scored on three kick returns.

The former Wisconsin All-American died Sunday at a Denver hospice after a bout with lung cancer. He was 70.

Bob Miles, now retired and living in Las Vegas, is a 1962 ECW grad who later coached and served as athletic director at EC Central. Smith was a dear friend.

"Ron always had an attitude that everybody should know who he is," Miles said. "He'd always introduce himself at various functions as 'I'm Ron Smith, do you know who I am?'

"I always got a kick out of that."

Smith's NFL career included stints with the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. But when he retired after the 1974 season, he became an extremely private person who all but disappeared from the public view.

"I saw Ron three years ago and he was blind," Miles said. "I was driving through Denver and was going to stop by just for lunch, but wound up spending five or six hours. We talked about old times."

The two had previously spent time in Los Angeles when Smith was with the Rams.

"I took some pictures of us and he told me 'Whatever you do, don't give anyone my address.' So I've hesitated to reach out. He was such a private person," Miles recalled.

But not in high school, where Smith dominated locally in football and track.

"A super athlete," Miles said. "He was 6-2 and chiseled. We ran track together. The quarter-mile in track separates the men from the boys and Ron ran the quarter mile."

Washington Redskins' assistant coach Bobby Turner, a 1968 ECW grad, emulated Smith's style while playing defensive back at Indiana State.

"Great athlete and an awesome pro the way he came up and hit," said Turner, the oldest of 13 children who couldn't watch much football on TV growing up because he was busy working odd jobs to help his family.

"So I studied Smitty from afar from the aspect here's a person from East Chicago who made it. Outside of his athletic ability, which was obvious, he was a class guy."

Funeral arrangements are pending according to Smith's daughter, Jennifer, who lives in Houston.

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