Ed Smith made a difficult and rare job switch, giving up a faltering minor league baseball career for a shot at the NFL.
His brother, Irv, helped convince him to give it a try and continues to marvel that he managed to pull off the improbable transition. Sunday, when the 49ers played host to the Atlanta Falcons, the two tight ends resumed their friendly rivalry from opposite sidelines.
"It's a great feeling to be out there on the same field with your big brother, especially after all he has been through in his career," said Irv Smith, who came to San Francisco prior to this season as a free agent after five years in New Orleans.
"To be able to see that he's been able to tackle this obstacle and to still be playing is a tribute to him. It's a thrill for me to see it being done."
Ed, 29, took a novel approach to his first NFL job. A football, basketball and baseball star at Pemberton (N.J.) High School, he turned down a football scholarship from the University of North Carolina and signed with the Chicago White Sox, who had drafted him in the seventh round in 1987.
Irv, 26, also was a three-sport star at Pemberton, receiving many of the same accolades as his older brother. He ultimately pursued football, playing at Notre Dame before being drafted in the first round by the Saints in 1993.
His brother spent nine years in the minors with three different organizations, rising to Triple-A in 1995 with the Buffalo Bisons, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. But trouble hitting the curve kept him from breaking into the majors, and a frustrated Ed gave his younger brother a call and brought up the idea of giving up baseball for football.
"He actually called me up at the end of his baseball season and said, 'Irv, I'm tired of this baseball runaround. Do you think I can play football?' " Irv recalled. "And I said, 'Ed, if we can get you an opportunity, I know you have the ability. It's all about getting your shot.' "
Ed got his start with the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe in 1996 after Irv recommended him to a league official. Later that year, he was on the St. Louis Rams' practice squad, was cut and then joined Washington's practice squad only to be released again.
In 1997, he was signed to the Falcons' practice squad and was promoted to the active roster for the 12th game of the season.
"We always joked about what would happen if we had to hit each other," Ed said. "If the situation occurred, I just hoped he'd go around me. It never did, and it was fun to see No. 82 [his brother's jersey number] standing on the sidelines across from me."
Irv Smith's 49ers won the game Sunday, 31-20, as Irv caught four passes for 39 yards. His brother had no receptions.
THAT MUST BE ONE TOUGH CAR, DEION
Dallas Cowboy cornerback Deion Sanders described how he attempted suicide last year when his marriage was crumbling, his father was dying and everything seemed to be falling apart.
"You're on the run, trying to reach out and hold on to something desperate," Sanders said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "NFL Today."
"The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy. And he was trying to murder me, and I was about to let him do so. And there came that fatal attempt."
Sanders said he tried to kill himself about a year ago by driving his car off a cliff in Cincinnati, where he was playing baseball for the Reds.
"I attempted suicide, but God had his hands on me," Sanders said. "I ran the car off the cliff, and it was like a 40. . . . 30-foot drop. The car went down and hit and there wasn't a scratch on me or on the car."
Sanders estimated he was driving "about 65 or 70 mph" at the time.
He said he turned his life around after the crash and now loves the Lord with all his heart.
"You try to fulfill your time and your needs," he said. "I was just empty. I tried cars, jewelry, clothes, women, money. Everything, nothing could fulfill me.
"I know who I am, what I am, where I'm going and how to get there."
THIS McGWIRE GUY IS ALL OVER THE PLACE
The crowd of 55,832 at St. Louis' Trans World Dome to watch the St. Louis-Arizona game booed the Rams and the wayward Cardinals early, but late in the third quarter, the place suddenly went nuts. Credit Mark McGwire.
The St. Louis Cardinal slugger, playing a few blocks south at Busch Stadium, hit his 69th home run. Many fans brought radios to the Trans World Dome, and as word of the homer spread late in the third quarter, the crowd cheered wildly.
"Did the Rams win?" McGwire asked after hitting another home run and finishing the season with 70.
When told they didn't, he said, "Oh, I hope I didn't cause a loss."
IN OUR ILLUSTRIOUS HISTORY. . . .
Linebacker Sam Mills, who retired last December after starting every game in the Carolina Panthers' first three seasons, was inducted into the team's Hall of Honor during a halftime ceremony. Mills is the second person enshrined, joining retired team president Mike McCormack.
HE'S ALSO A GOOD INTERCEPTION RETURNER
One of Denver's touchdowns in its 38-16 victory over Washington came from cornerback Darrien Gordon, whom Washington receiver Leslie Shepherd dismissed as "a punt returner" last week. Gordon stepped in front of Shepherd to pick off a pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. It gave the Broncos a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
"It was poetic justice," Gordon said. "For a guy like that to make that kind of comment with his record. I've started twice as many games as he has."
Compiled by Houston Mitchell
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Player, Team Att Cmp Yds TD BRETT FAVRE, Packers 45 27 388 5 STEVE YOUNG, 49ers 39 28 387 3 ERIK KRAMER, Bears 39 25 372 4 PEYTON MANNING, Colts 32 19 292 1 R.CUNNINGHAM, Vikings 25 16 275 4 RICH GANNON, Chiefs 25 17 262 0 RODNEY PEETE, Eagles 36 21 260 1 CHRIS CHANDLER, Falcons 38 16 254 2 ERIC ZEIER, Ravens 20 15 254 1 TRENT GREEN, Redskins 31 19 252 1 JASON GARRETT, Cowboys 33 18 222 0 JAKE PLUMMER, Cardinals 31 21 211 1
Player, Team No Yds TD PRIEST HOLMES, Ravens 27 173 2 LAMAR SMITH, Saints 24 157 0 JEROME BETTIS, Steelers 28 138 0 JAMAL ANDERSON, Falcons 13 123 1 TERRELL DAVIS, Broncos 21 119 1
Player, Team No Yds TD JERRY RICE, 49ers 8 162 1 JOEY GALLOWAY, Seahawks 7 139 0 TERANCE MATHIS, Falcons 7 130 2 BOBBY ENGRAM, Bears 6 123 2