Born on November 26, 1909 in Spearfish, South Dakota, Ernie Smith was a large All-America tackle for Coach Howard Jones’ two-time national champion University of Southern California Trojans in 1931-32. He and his linemates averaged 50-55 minutes a game and allowed only two touchdowns all season in ‘32. Were he playing today with a resume like that, he’d be a high first round draft choice who would sign an extended contract for millions of dollars a year with several million upfront as a signing bonus.
The 6’2″ 220-pound Smith graduated in 1933, but did not turn pro immediately. Instead, he spent the 1933 and ‘34 seasons coaching the USC freshman team and getting started in a career in insurance that would last over 50 years. In 1934, he played minor league football near his home with the Southern California Maroons of the Pacific Coast Pro Football League (PCPFL). Finally, in 1935 he signed on with Curly Lambeau and played tackle in Green Bay for three years, twice receiving All-Pro consideration and helping the team win the 1936 title. In addition, he handled extra point kicking and the occasional field goal attempt for the Packers. He left the NFL in 1938 to again play close to home for the Hollywood Stars of the PCPFL, while keeping his business running. Smith returned for a final NFL season in 1939 as the Pack won another title with Smith hitting a field goal and an extra point in the title game against the Giants.
A month later, the Packers played in the early version of the Pro Bowl in which the 1939 champs were pitted against a team of NFL All-Stars in Los Angeles on January 14, 1940. Green Bay prevailed 16-7, and the Press-Gazette game story reported that Smith begged his teammates in the closing minutes, “Lemme kick another goal. This is my hometown and I gotta sell a lot of insurance next week.” That was Ernie’s second field goal of the game and gave him seven points to make him the game’s leading scorer.
Ernie reported for training camp in 1940 but returned to California in September to tend to his business. He indicated that he planned to return to the Packers, but Curly Lambeau was doubtful, “After two weeks away from the squad, he’d have a tough time getting back in the routine.” At that point, Smith was second in team history with 45 extra points, just one behind Red Dunn’s 46 according to the Press-Gazette. Ernie never played in the NFL again and joined the army in 1942. When he mustered out in 1946, he signed on as the Packers’ West Coast scout as a sidelight to his insurance business.
Smith also appeared in at least one movie, That’s My Boy, from 1932. He played, in a bit of typecasting, a football player. It’s likely that Smith appeared in other movies as an extra since so many fellow USC alumni made a career in movies: actor Ward Bond who played on the 1930 Trojan team, film editor Cotton Warburton who was an All American quarterback from 1932-34, and production staffers Nate Barragar and Russ Saunders who played for the Trojans from 1927-29. Barragar and Saunders also played for Green Bay, and Barragar was a fraternity brother of Smith’s. Perhaps even John Wayne who had played for the Trojans as Marion Morrison in 1925-26 might have put in a word for him.
Smith died on April 28, 1985 at the age of 75 in Altadena, California of leukemia. He was survived by his wife, two sons, one daughter and eight grandchildren. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
(Adapted from Packers by the Numbers)
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