Whenever I see an athlete do as well as Jimmy Smith did in last Sunday's Super Bowl, it reminds me of the story of Gene Tenace.
Tenace was a catcher/first baseman trying to break into the lineup of a very young and talented Oakland A's baseball team in 1972. He got some chances to play but never hit more than seven homers during parts of his first four seasons. But the A's put him into the lineup in the 1972 World Series, and Tenace hit four homers in seven games against the Reds to help Oakland win in seven games.
Tenace's career took off after that. He became a regular who hit between 15 and 29 homers for each of the next eight years. What Smith did last week against the 49ers in the Super Bowl is the kind of thing that could give his career the same kind of jolt.
He made two huge plays in the team's final defensive series. The Ravens were clinging to a five-point lead, and the 49ers had third-and-goal from the Baltimore 7-yard line. Michael Crabtree tried to catch a short pass from Colin Kaepernick, but Smith raced up and helped jar the ball loose.
Then, on fourth down, he used his arms to tie up Crabtree -- the 49ers and their staff are still saying it should have been holding, and it was close -- and the ball fell incomplete. That gave the Ravens the ball back.
The Ravens expected a lot from Smith when they drafted him two years ago, and they haven't quite gotten it. He missed part of 2011 with injuries but played much better when returning.
A sports hernia slowed him this year, as Smith needed surgery that kept him out for about a month. He struggled upon his return in mid-December, and lost some playing time. But he came through in a big way in the Super Bowl.
Can those two plays be the force that makes Smith's career take off? It will be interesting to see what happens.