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He scored Bills' 1st Super Bowl TD, now suing them

By Tim Graham

The running back who scored the first Super Bowl touchdown in Buffalo Bills history is suing the team.

Don Smith, a running back and kick returner on the 1990 squad, is among the plaintiffs in a concussion-related lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tampa, Fla.

What makes this lawsuit unusual compared to the scores filed before it is that specific teams are named as defendants. The Bills are one of them.

DonSmithGettyAll three players in the lawsuit -- star tight end Jimmie Giles, defensive lineman Arron Sears and Smith -- played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The lawsuit also includes every other team they played for. 

The lawsuit accuses the NFL, Buccaneers, Bills, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and the Riddell helmet company of negligence and fraud for withholding information about the dangers of concussions and head injuries.

The 146-page complaint, obtained by The Buffalo News, is written vaguely. There are no specific incidents of negligence outlined or examples given. Smith's accusations against the Bills read exactly the same as Giles' accusations against the Oilers, Buccaneers, Lions and Eagles.

"The problems Don has are from repeated concussions, short-term memory loss, difficulties with concentration," attorney Wayne Ferrell said from his office in Jackson, Miss. "His problems are not necessarily totally disabling, but they certainly present problems for Don.

"It's from going back into a game when they shouldn't have played, and the medical evidence as far back as the 1930s and 1940s says that if you have one brain injury you're more susceptible to having another one. We think the NFL, including the teams, hid this information from the players. They encouraged going back into the game and finishing the game."

Smith, a 1987 second-round draft pick from Mississippi State, spent three seasons with the Buccaneers. He earned the team's Ed Block Courage Award in 1988, when he returned from a broken leg and back surgery that wiped out his rookie season.

The Bills obtained Smith as a Plan B free agent in 1990. He played every game, helping the Bills win their first AFC championship.

Smith was a depth player for Buffalo. He rushed 20 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns and added 21 receptions for 225 yards. But his 1-yard plunge in Super Bowl XXV gave the Bills a 10-3 lead. Smith also was the lead kick returner all season.

The Dolphins picked him up in Plan B free agency in 1991, but he didn't make the team and retired.

Ferrell noted one of Smith's concussions came against the New York Giants, although he wasn't sure if it was in Week 15 matchup or in Super Bowl XXV.

"He shook it off and went back into the game and played," Ferrell said. "Those injuries were cumulative for him."

Smith has had off-field problems. In 1993, he was videotaped buying a pound of cocaine with $9,500 stuffed in a Kentucky Fried Chicken box. He pleaded guilty and went to prison. Smith was unavailable to comment Thursday.

The Bills referred all lawsuit questions to the NFL.

"The NFL and its clubs have long made player safety a priority and continue to do so," NFL spokesman Brian McCarty said in an email. "Any allegation that the NFL or its clubs intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."

Paul Anderson, an attorney who runs ConcussionLitigation.com, reported the lawsuit broke new ground. Anderson counted 93 previous concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, but none of them singled out a particular club.

"Our intentions weren't to be trail blazers," the plaintiff's lead attorney, former Eagles defensive back Charles Emanuel, said from his office in Stuart, Fla. "Our intent is to protect the rights of our clients, and based on the information that's out there, we feel the teams are as culpable as the NFL.

"It may be a tougher road for us to hoe, but we wanted to name the teams each player played for. The teams are members of the NFL. The teams would have the persons who deal directly with the players and would know more about players' injuries and make judgment calls on players returning to a game after concussions."

Ferrell added the attorneys representing Smith, Giles and Sears want to keep their case at the state level. They do not want to have their lawsuit absorbed into class-action or multi-district litigation along with other NFL-related concussion cases because they want to maintain more control over their clients' interests.

(Photo: Getty Images)

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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