45 days to Packers football: Ernie Smith

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With 45 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day continues.

Thursday, Sept. 4, is the day when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks.  

Over the  course of the next 45 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … and for today that number is 45.

Most recently, we took a look at number 46, Verne Lewellen.

Today we focus in on #45.

That’s a tough one – racking my brain for any player who has worn number 45, I came up empty.

I forgot about Quinn JohnsonMike PriorVai Sikahema and Emlen Tunnell.

But if you’re like John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” you understand that these players may have done some contributing in the past.

But he takes us back once again to the 1930s to introduce us to an interesting player who we didn’t know about – Ernie Smith.

Maxymuk’s chapter on #45 is called  “Work Ethic.” I like Ernie Smith already. Here is what he hd to say about Smith:

It is difficult to conceive how different professional sports was 80 years ago. It was not at all major league in the contemporary use of the term.

Working conditions were primitive, and pay was paltry. There was no television and no Internet; games were covered on radio or not at all. Newspapers were the media giant, but they relegated all but Major League Baseball to deep inside the limited sports pages. Football coverage meant college football.

Ernie Smith is a case in point. He was a large All American tackle for Coach Howard Jones’ two-time national champion University of Southern California Trojans. He and his line mates averaged 50-55 minutes a game and allowed only two touchdowns all season. 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 up front as a signing bonus. His agent would take his cut off the top and help guide the newly rich tackle in ways to invest his new wealth so that he might never have to work again after football.

Of course there would be no guarantee on the sounds of those investments or of the person the player selects to manage the money, but the potential is there to be “set for life.”

Ernie Smith, 6-2, 220 pounds, graduated in 1933, however, and did not even turn pro immediately. He spent the 1933 and 34 seasons coaching the USC freshman team and getting started in a career in insurance that would last 53 years. In 1934, he played minor league football near his home with the Southern California Maroons of the Pacific Coast Pro Football League.

Finally, in 1935 he signed on with Curly Lambeau and played tackle 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 dropped out in 1938 to again play close to home for the Hollywood stars of the PCPFL, but returned for a final NFL season in 1939 as the Pack won another title.

He then got on with his real life career, interrupted briefly by a World War II stint in the U.S. Army Air Force. Smith also appeared in movies, roughly 85 according to one source. A check of the Internet Movie Database, however, reveals only an Ernie Smith who appeared in one movie in 1936 and one television production in 1966, and Ernie Smith who appeared in “That’s my Boy” in 1932, playing, in a bit of typecasting, a football player. It’s likely that Smith’s movie appearances were mostly as an extra. Perhaps he was helped in landing bit parts in films by fellow USC alumni who made a career in movies: actor Ward Bond …

While no one wants to go back to he football or the playing/working conditions of Ernie Smith’s time, that era’s lack of guaranteed money and the resultant need for players to prove their worth on the field every day produced a competitive work ethic that was good for the game. The need for players to continue proving their worth and earning their keep after a sports career ended was a good example for the nation.

Today’s mold of athletes as entertainers who have hit the lottery is a far less positive image.

Here is the list of all Packers players who have worn #45 over the past 50 years:

From To AV
Derek Combs 2003 2003 1
Kerry Cooks 1998 1998 1
Keith Crawford 1995 1999 0
Dave Hathcock 1966 1966 3
Ervin Hunt 1970 1970 2
Quinn Johnson 2009 2011 0
Dexter McNabb 1992 1992 0
Alex Neutz 2012 2012  
Mike Prior 1993 1993 0
John Rowser 1967 1969 5
Vai Sikahema 1991 1991 0
Perry Smith 1973 1976 17
Lavale Thomas 1987 1988 1
Emlen Tunnell 1959 1961 8
Dick Wildung 1950 1951 0
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