Steve Smear will head to Harrisburg in October for his induction into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
The former Penn State University All-American defensive tackle credits his Johnstown roots and support system for enabling him to make the trip.
“I’m really humbled by this award, but this is about my mom, the City of Johnstown. It’s about the guys that coached me from the time I was in grade school, high school and college. It’s about my teammates,” said Smear during a Saturday telephone interview from Annapolis, Md.
Smear, 65, will be inducted during the 51st annual ceremony on Oct. 19 at the Holiday Inn East in Harrisburg.
The Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame previously had inducted Smear in 2006. That induction made him a candidate for the prestigious statewide honor.
A 1966 graduate of Bishop McCort High School, Smear played for coach Joe Paterno at Penn State. Another McCort grad, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jack Ham, was among his teammates.
Smear also was part of a Nittany Lions sophomore class that moved into prominent roles during the second week of the 1967 college season and eventually helped Penn State through a run of 30 victories, two undefeated seasons and three bowl-game appearances.
“We had lost the Navy game my sophomore year,” Smear said of a 23-22 loss in the season opener. “Joe (Paterno) benched a lot of the upperclassmen. Seven of us sophomores played extensively in the Miami game, a game we won. From that point on, those seven guys played together for three years. That was a lot of experience and a lot of good football players playing together for a long time.”
On defense, that sophomore group included future College Fotoball Hall of Famer linebacker Dennis Onkotz, safety Neal Smith, linebacker Jim Kates, defensive end John Ebersole and defensive back Paul Johnson.
Penn State lost, 17-15, to visiting UCLA in Week 3 that season, but ran off seven straight victories and a 17-17 tie with Florida State in the Gator Bowl to finish ranked No. 10 in the country.
The following season the Lions went 11-0 and beat Kansas State in the Orange Bowl. In 1969, Penn State once again won all 11 games and beat Missouri in the Orange Bowl.
Smear cited the work ethic his mother, Anna, 94, instilled in the family. Smear lost his father shortly after his birth. Then, his step father died during Smear’s formative years.
“My father died when I was very young. Consequently, my mom raised three kids,” he recalled. “We owned the Toll Gate Inn (in Benscreek) and lived upstairs. My mom was a bartender, a waitress, a janitor, a cook, and she was a mother. She worked 18 hours a day.
“When you grow up with somebody like that, you see somebody with a great work ethic. You understand that anything in life – to succeed at it – you have to work hard at it, especially if you’re not the fastest, biggest and strongest guy out there.
“I was so lucky to grow up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania,” Smear added. “In the 1950s and 1960s there couldn’t have been a better place to grow up and be in sports. There were so many people to help kids.”
Smear was part of a successful tradition on the football field and basketball court at Bishop McCort, playing on an undefeated football squad and a Catholic state championship hoops team.
“I was very fortunate that when I got to high school I had role models like Pete Duranko, who had just graduated,” Smear said. “My sophomore year, I was part of the undefeated team and I played under Joe Shumock. He taught me you had to be mean and tough.”
Paterno had a huge impact on Smear and his teammates. As the Jerry Sandusky scandal unfolded Smear was outspoken when talking about Penn State. In 2011, he was the featured speaker at the Point Stadium Award banquet.
On the field, Smear and the Lions were a hit.
“Our defensive team was arguably one of the three, four or five best defensive teams in the 1960s,” he said. “I was fortunate to be on there with these guys. I was humble and wise enough to know if I had not been lucky enough to be in that group, this honor would not be possible.”
The Baltimore Colts selected Smear in the fourth round of the 1970 NFL draft, but he decided to play for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. He was part of a CFL Grey Cup championship team in Montreal.
Smear moved to Annapolis in 1976 and is an insurance salesman. He and his wife, Diana, have four children, two sons and two daughters, and two granddaughters.
“This hall of fame award is neat because my kids weren’t around when I was playing,” Smear said. “Now, they get to share in this honor. They get to see their dad honored.”
Smear will join a select group of Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inductees with ties to the region. Others include: George Azar (football, 2009); Pete Vuckovich (baseball, 2008); Pete Duranko (football, 2006); Tom Vargo (football, 1995); Steve Petro (football, 1980); William “Skip” Hughes (basketball, 1973); Maurice Stokes (basketball, 1967); Johnny Weissmuller (swimming, 1967); and Arnold Palmer (golf, 1963).
Jay Sigel, a three-time champion of the Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament of Champions, will be inducted with Smear. Sigel won Sunnehanna in 1976, 1978 and 1988.