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Delco Athletes Hall of Fame: George Schmitt will never forget his NFL experience

UPPER CHICHESTER — A chunk of the crowd at the 84th Delaware County Athletes Hall of Fame ceremony Sunday at the Ballroom at the Phoenix didn’t have the pleasure of living vicariously through George Schmitt, who impacted football on every level.

Class of 2024 inductee Schmitt lived the dream from Marple Newtown High, where he was first-team All-Delco, to a Division I-AA All-American under Tubby Raymond at the University of Delaware, to sixth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983.

Though the professional career lasted just 16 games due to a back injury, Schmitt, now 63, secured enough memories to last a lifetime. That includes a special game ball for his work on special teams that he hopes to one day give to a grandchild.

Schmitt was a 22-year-old rookie when he walked into a kid’s daydream. The Cardinals’ starting safety, Benny Perrin, was banged up and just like that Schmitt wound up on the field in the second half against the San Diego Chargers and their Air Coryell lineup with receiver Charlie Joiner, tight end Kellen Winslow and star running back Chuck Muncie. Luckily, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts sat out that game.

“They call a play into me, man to man coverage,” Schmitt said. “And I’ve got Charlie Joiner. I’m thinking, are you kidding me? I’m not covering Charlie Joiner. So, I called a zone. I forget what happened on the play, but I didn’t get beat. I was like a young kid, wide open eyes, seeing all these stars.”

Joiner and Winslow were among several offensive Hall of Fame players Schmitt ran into during the 1983 season. The list included, just to name a few, John Taylor, Tony Dorsett, John Riggins, Art Monk, Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Marcus Allen and Cliff Branch. Four of the first 10 picks in the 1983 draft were Hall of Famers starting with John Elway. Schmitt was living the dream.

“It was like a who’s who all year, me seeing all these great guys I used to look up to,” Schmitt said. “I was all piss and vinegar. I think I’m going to go out there and start right away. So, I think, let me look in the press guide and see who I’m going to compete with. I look at this guy, Perrins. Four-year starter. His bio is All-State high school football, All-State basketball, All-State baseball in Alabama, Two-year starter under Bear Bryant at Alabama. Then I was like, let’s just make the team.”

Leading up to the 1983 draft, Schmitt, at about 5-11 and 193, worked out for several teams. Then Eagles assistant head coach-defensive backs coach Fred Bruney dropped by Newark, Del. and told Schmitt to be ready.

“He said ‘George, we’re thinking about going for you a little earlier than you’d expect,’” Schmitt said. “The Eagles ended up drafting Wes Hopkins in the second round. And he was unbelievable.”

The playing career was short lived, though, as Schmitt learned he had Spondylosis, which affects the spine due to chronic wear and tear.

“I had my back fused,” Schmitt said. “It just came on. I had problems with it my rookie year. I did what I had to do to rehab it and then when I came back in it started flaring out.”

If the issue occurred today, Schmitt likely would have had a better chance of returning. But he does not regret the decision.

“It all worked out,” Schmitt said. “Larry Wilson was the general manager at the time. Even though my career was ended he really took care of me.”

Schmitt doesn’t mind retelling the painful story about the injury, knowing it might benefit someone.

These days Schmitt is in the commercial real estate business, working for a developer in Wilmington specializing in shopping centers and urban complexes. Schmitt said it’s full of former “jocks.”

“A lot of athletes are in it competing,” Schmitt added. “One-hundred percent commission. I enjoy it. It’s cutthroat, it’s competitive and you’re only as good as your last deal.”

In that respect, it’s a lot like football. One of Schmitt’s favorite stories is the way the Cardinals under head coach Jim Hanifan busted out of a 1-5 start with a 14-11 win over Marion Campbell and the Eagles at the Vet with seven victories and one tie in their last nine games. One of those W’s was against the Los Angeles Raiders, who became 34-24 victims.

“We ended up being the hottest team in the NFL,” Schmitt said. “We went out to the Coliseum. Everybody I think missed curfew and they were tired and the Raiders had Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen and Cliff Branch. They were beating us at halftime, like 17-0. We came out in the second half, and I’ve never seen a better football game in my life. We just really dominated them. We were the last team to beat the Raiders, who won the Super Bowl that year.”

Truth be told, Schmitt enjoys college football more than the pro game. He likes the pageantry and appreciates the NILs and transfer rules that benefit players. Once the NFL playoffs begin, Schmitt refocuses.

“Every time I watch a pro game I kind of go back in my mind and think, well, what would I do?” said Schmitt, who grew up in Broomall and now resides comfortably in Malvern. “It always reminds me of when I was playing. And it’s all good memories. When I look back, I just appreciate that I got a year in. I never played the guessing game. Maybe I could have extended it, but I could have gotten cut the next year. It had to be the most anxiety ridden year and the most elation I’ve had in a year in my life.”

(Tomorrow: more coverage of the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame dinner) 

Source: Berkshire mont

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