MEMPHIS — Prior to the annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl, one of the most important traditions of the late December celebration took place Dec. 27 at the Memphis Hilton.
The organizers invited those affiliated with the participating teams Kansas State Wildcats and Navy Midshipmen to the 2019 AutoZone Liberty Bowl FCA Breakfast presented by FedEx. This year’s banquet was sponsored by Brim’s Snack Foods, String’n Swing Tennis and Triumph with guest speaker Sherman Smith. Smith came to Memphis with a solid résumé in the game of football.
Described as a loyal follower of Christ, he came to the breakfast as a devoted husband, father and lifelong athlete.
He shared with the packed ballroom parts of his life story and the amazing tale of being reunited with his son recently. The high school player he recruited decades ago and stayed in his life for nearly 30 years, Deland McCullough calls his mentor and coach up one day to update him about his search for his birth parents.
McCullough was adopted and his search for his real parents led him to Sherman Smith.
“I find that the story is encouraging a lot of people,” Smith said. “You hear about God’s grace and only God could have brought that together the way it was brought together. God watched over Deland and the type of man Deland was even thought he didn’t have his dad in his life full time.
“People have been encouraged by the story and how God’s grace can carry you in life and through things,” he added. “Hopefully somebody will hear it and say I can reconcile other relationships in my life.”
Before Smith shared that story with the guests, the event started with the National Anthem and official welcome. Then those in attendance got a chance to learn more about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the organizations’ impact on area student/athletes.
Special guest K-State and Navy sent a couple of players up to the podium to participate in a friendly game. The Wildcats won that event. And then the 16th Annual FCA John “Bull” Bramlett Award was presented to ECS linebacker Austin Hill. Hill was named Mr. Football Division II-AA earlier in December.
Then it was time for the Super Bowl-winning coach to step to the microphone. Smith earned respect for his résumé involved with the game. He was drafted in the second round in 1976 by the Seattle Seahawks as a running back. “The Tank” rushed for 3,429 yards and 28 touchdowns.
His NFL coaching career began in 1995 with the then Houston Oilers. He reached his first Super Bowl as a running backs’ coach in 1999 with the Tennessee Titans.
Smith was on the victorious side of the Super Bowl with the Seahawks winning the 48th edition of the big game.
Smith is married and has three children, including McCullough who is currently coaching the running backs for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Fate brought the pair together years ago when Smith recruited McCullough to Youngstown State University. The connection and unique bond between the men kept them connected over the years.
Smith told the audience he is blessed his wife and family welcomed Deland into the fold with open arms. But he hopes the lesson others will learn is that bad decisions lead to others having to pick up the pieces.
“You’ve got to understand, when you are irresponsible, somebody else has to become responsible for it,” he said. “That’s the thing that got me. Everything you’re trying to do, you’re trying to reach a goal. You might know the goal you’re trying to reach, but you’re trying to get somewhere.
“That’s why I said for me I got that phone call, I shouldn’t have been surprised because how I was living when I was in high school,” Smith concluded. “Because that was where I was going. I shouldn’t have been surprised to get that phone call. Be aware of what you’re doing, you will have consequences for your actions.”
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the sports editor for West 10 Media, which is owned by Magic Valley Publishing, and the editor of The Millington Star. Email him at [email protected].
October 1, 2023