Toronto Argonauts

 Bruce Smith - Defensive Tackle - 1976-79 - Colorado

Rob Malich - Toronto Argonauts website - 1996

 

Bruce Smith is a big bear of a man, so it's no surprise that the phone number to call to reserve him for one of his public speaking engagements is 480-BEAR.

 

"They used to call me the grizzly bear, but now I'm the panda bear," laughed Smith, who in the late '70's was a mean, growling Argonaut defensive lineman, but is now, along with his job as a high school public speaker, a children's book author as well.

 

"Things are going good; I'm healthy and very fortunate," said Smith, a born-again Christian whose family consists of wife Shirley and children Courtne and Coby. They live in Toronto, where Smith handles a very busy schedule, which includes his main occupation as a real estate agent. His successful Bruce Smith Realty has been in operation in the posh Forest Hill district since 1987, when Smith left his salesman position with Canada Trust, where he was the top seller in five of his six years there, to go it alone.

 

The irony of a black man being the prime seller of real estate in a predominantly white, upper-class neighbourhood is not lost on Smith, who was raised in the decidedly racist atmosphere of Huntsville, Texas.

 

"I grew up in a totally segregated situation," said Smith, who attended the University of Colorado on a scholarship, and came to Canada in 1972 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where he won a Grey Cup ring. But he admitted he had a chip on his shoulder as a result of the racism he had faced earlier on in his life, and it hurt him in his early CFL experiences.

 

"(In Canada), people treat you on your own merits," said Smith, who learned to realize and accept this as he moved from city to city early in his career, from Hamilton to Edmonton to Ottawa and finally to Toronto, where he had a successful four- year stint and finished his career.

 

"The key to our defensive success was (assistant coach) Lamar Leachman," said Smith. "He was a coach ahead of his time, and he certainly made me the best player that I could become."

 

Along with the likes of Granville "Granny" Liggins and Ecomet Burley, Smith was a key component of a defence that often kept the team in games, even though they had losing records in all four of Smith's Argo years, from 1976-79. But Smith still remembers his years in Double Blue with a smile.

 

"I was some fun times; I remember that the Argos were a hot ticket," recalled Smith, who remembers the off-field treatment just as much, if not more. "I liked living in Canada and the people here. Canada was much more an area of tolerance. People here just tend to get along."

 

Much more so than in Smith's home country, despite what gold medal sprinter Donovan Bailey did (or did not) say. "There's going to be some racism everywhere you go, but if you look at the overall tolerance, you don't feel the element of fear or hatred here," said Smith.