When you mention the name Herman Smith to a B.C. Lions fan, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t flattering.
They’ll probably overlook his on-field exploits and remember a football player who got arrested in a sting operation in Las Vegas. According to a story in The Las Vegas Sun in April of 2003, Smith “was arrested at a lounge inside a resort on Las Vegas Boulevard on charges of pandering and possession of a credit card without the owner’s consent.”
That incident made it easy to overlook the fact that Smith was a standout defensive end for the Lions from 1998 to 2003, compiling 41 sacks over 89 games during those six seasons and was named a Western Division All-Star on three occasions.
He also won a Grey Cup with the Lions in 2000.
I hadn’t thought of “The Herminator” in years until a friend contacted me last week.
My friend had come to possess a 2000 B.C. Lions Grey Cup ring. I didn’t ask how he came into possession of it nor did he ask for anything in return – all my friend wanted to do was get the ring back to its rightful owner.
The ring was Herman Smith’s.
I wondered what had happened to Smith since his time in the CFL. The Herman Smith I remembered from 2003 wasn’t exactly a model citizen. With that in mind, I thought trying to find him might prove to be difficult.
I was wrong.
A quick google search found Herman Smith as the defensive line coach at Colorado State University – Puebla.
He has been there since 2017.
After making some enquiries, I got a cell number. After calling him and getting re-acquainted for a few minutes, I told him to hang up and I’d FaceTime him as I wanted to show him something.
We got a laugh at how both of us had aged over the course of twenty years before I turned my camera on the ring sitting on my desk.
“I think this might be yours,” I chuckled.
“Is that my Grey Cup ring?” he yelled.
“Yes, it is,” I replied.
Over the course of several calls during the next couple of days, I found out the difference between the Herman Smith of 2003 and the Herman Smith of 2023.
“I was a bad dude in 2003,” admits Smith.
Reflecting back on the incident in Las Vegas, Smith accepts full responsibility in what transpired. No charges were ever laid but the incident did prove to be a turning point in his life.
He returned to the Lions for the 2003 season but a bad knee ended his football career.
“My body was telling me I pretty much needed to shut it down, so I ended up retiring. I moved back to Vegas and I was trying to figure out the next step in my life,” explained Smith.
According to Smith, the legal incident was an eye-opener and he didn’t like the direction his life was heading.
“It scared me and made me think about what I was doing,” said Smith, who was now in his early 30’s and trying to find himself while living in Las Vegas.
Luckily for him, the answer was literally in his backyard.
“There was a park right behind my house. A couple of football teams practiced and played there. One day, I just went out there and volunteered. Then I got the itch to get back into football,” said Smith.
He eventually wound up coaching at Legacy High School in Las Vegas for three years. That led to a coaching gig at Victor Valley Junior College in Victorville, California for another three years. After that, Smith moved to Oklahoma Baptist University in 2016 – a move which he says helped him immensely both on and off the field.
“Oklahoma Baptist is obviously a Christian school. I met some really cool people there - some great men, some great leaders. They kind of helped me get my life back on track. Honestly, it was such a positive experience going there and just being around men of faith,” remembered Smith, who spent one season in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Smith then got hired at Colorado State - Puebla where he has been since 2017.
As a coach, Smith looks at the big picture.
Only a few players from Colorado State - Puebla might ever get an opportunity in the pros, so he’s more focused on preparing his players for life after football.
“You’re more than a coach. The kids - you know when they leave their parents – I’m pretty much their dad. Just dealing with all the stuff I had to go through as a player and as a person and then being able to learn from those experiences and give back to them has been priceless,” said Smith.
“I do what I can to be able to help these kids to continue to grow. I tell my kids I’m not trying to develop you as a football player for these next four years, but as a person for the next 40 years of your life. I’ve gone up and explained my journey and where I’m at and how blessed I am. I’m very blessed and very thankful to still be able to do what I do with these kids and give back.”
Now, as for that ring, Smith says he lost it during a road trip in Montreal in 2002.
Worried about being late for the team bus to the game, Smith left his hotel room in a rush. It wasn’t until the Lions were flying home did Smith realise that he had left his ring in the hotel room.
The hotel never did locate it. Despite Smith’s best efforts in monitoring pawn shops and the internet, he could never track it down and gave up on finding the ring a few years ago.
Now with the ring back, he has something not only for himself but for his family which consists of his wife Christa, a Vernon native who he met while playing in B.C. and their two children – 10-year-old Kyrie and four-year-old Shi.
He had photos and mementos from the 88th Grey Cup game in which B.C. beat Calgary 28-26 but the loss of the ring had left a void.
“I’d see my old teammates posting pictures of themselves with their rings on social media through the years. I could always find the game stats online and you’d see my name in the lineups but I always wanted that championship ring that I had earned. That stuck with me for a long time. Now I can show my family this Grey Cup ring – now my children have an heirloom,” said Smith, who is eagerly anticipating a FedEx package next week.
Maybe now when the name Herman Smith is mentioned to a Lions fan, they’ll think of an individual who turned his life around – and got his Grey Cup ring back 20 years after losing it.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.