Staley’s Bears 1920-1921
Eugene Russell “Russ” Smith
Height: 5’10” Weight: 220
Born: 11/11/1895 Carbondale, IL
Died: 6/13/1948 Johnson City, IL
High School: Carbondale (IL) Tennessee Military Institute
Colleges: Southern Illinois; Navy; Illinois 1914, 1915, 1920
Eugene Smith entered the U.S. Naval Academy in the spring of 1915 and lettered in football as a Midshipman that fall. He scored the highest in all cadet strength tests that year and was “voted by the members of the Annapolis athletic board as the strongest man attending the academy.” At 199 pounds, the twenty-year-old was the heaviest man on the Navy team. When he started at right guard for the 1921 Staleys at 220 pounds there were four other linemen bigger than he was. This new professional football league separated the men from the boys.
Smith started all eleven of the APFA games of the Staleys’ championship season and came back in 1922 and started ten of the twelve NFL games for the now Chicago Bears. In 1923 he played in one game for the Canton Bulldogs before switching to the Milwaukee Badgers to start in seven games for former Staley Jimmy Conzelman. In 1924 he played in six games for the Cleveland Bulldogs alongside former Staley teammate Guy Chamberlin and then in 1925 played against the Bears with Jimmy Conzelman now with the Detroit Panthers before jumping to the Bears for just one game to block for Red Grange in front of 68,000 fans hoping to see the “Galloping Ghost” at the Polo Grounds against the New York Giants on December 6. Smith finished his pro career starting in three of the four games the Hammond Pros played in their last season with yet another former Staley teammate, Lou Usher.
Smith was the son of Southern Illinois Normal University professor George Washington Smith of Carbondale. He attended the Tennessee Military Institute in Sweetwater, TN. In the fall of 1913, he enrolled at SINU and was set to play football when he left for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. However, he was back at the now Southern Illinois University in the fall of 1914 and lettered in varsity football at a time when this rural college played several high school teams during the season. In 1915 he returned to the Naval Academy and received his “yellow N” before leaving again to become a history and math teacher and coach at Vandalia, IL high school. In May of 1917, he reported to Camp Sheridan, IL for reserve officers training and played some football there that fall before enlisting in the U.S. Army as a private on December 19, 1917. He finished his military career as a corporal and was discharged on June 28, 1919. He later enrolled at the University of Illinois and lettered in football in 1920. He attended summer school at the U of I both before and after his season with the Staleys.
After his professional football experiences, he settled in southern Illinois and got married when he was 31 years old. He operated a news dealership in Johnson City, IL and during WW II worked for Boyle and Healy at the Illinois Ordnance Plant in Marion, IL. He retired early due to poor health. On June 1, 1948, the Murphysboro, IL Daily Independent newspaper ran a January 1, 1915 photo of Smith and other prospective SINU football players, many of whom were listed as now deceased. Two weeks later Smith joined the ranks of those who had passed leaving his wife Irene and no children. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery, Carbondale.
Copyright © 2018 Mark W. Sorensen