Steve Smear

You would think a guy named "Smear" would be destined to become a great football player.

That's exactly what happened for Bishop McCort graduate Steve Smear, who enjoyed an all-American career at Penn State and was part of a championship team in the Canadian Football League.

But John Lux, Smear's friend and teammate on parochial football and basketball teams at St. Andrew School outside Ferndale, said Smear could have found success in any endeavor. Growing up in the 1960s, Smear could have become an astronaut.

"Steve had the right stuff," said Lux, whose father, Francis, coached the St. Andrew's football team. "Steve was a great person on the field, off the field – all the way around."

Although his future was in football, Smear helped lead the McCort High basketball team to a 28-2 record and a state Catholic schools championship as a senior in 1966. John Hahn, now the girls' basketball coach at McCort, was a junior on that Crimson Crushers squad.

"That was Steve's team, and everybody took their lead from him – even though we had some great players, including Mike Patcher, who went on to play basketball at Pitt," Hahn said.

"Steve was an excellent basketball player," Hahn added. "Since his choice for his future was football, people probably forget that."

Smear grew up in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County. His family owned the Old Toll Gate Inn, and Steve lived across the road from St. Andrew's – where coaches gave him a key to get into the gymnasium early to practice his corner jump shot, John Lux said.

"We never won a basketball game or a football game until I was in eighth grade," Smear said with a laugh. "I remember one basketball game when I scored a basket and we lost 59-2."

"He was always there early in the morning, shooting baskets," Lux said. "That's why he was so good at basketball."

On the gridiron, Smear counted among his mentors Francis Lux, McCort coach Joe Shumock, earlier Crushers standout Pete Duranko and high school teammates including future Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers star Jack Ham.

Shumock, who led the Crushers to a 29-0-1 mark from 1961-63, helped make players "tough," Smear said.

"He was famous for saying, 'I want blood.' Football was a tough sport," Smear said. "He'd get in your face, grab your helmet. It was a different environment in those days."

Hahn recalled a "gentle giant" on the basketball court. McCort coach Bill Merkovsky, like his football counterparts, wanted Smear to be physical – "meaner," Hahn said.

"Steve was so well respected," Hahn said. "He would knock you down. Then he would pick you up."

Smear chose Penn State over his favorite team – the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Duranko had already made a name in South Bend on his way to the NFL. Smear said he also visited Michigan State, where Cambria County native Duffy Daugherty was the coach, but decided he didn't want to sit behind Bubba Smith on the defensive line depth chart.

Duranko cast "too big of a shadow for me," Smear said. "Plus, it was just my mom and me, and Penn State was a lot closer. I said, 'I need to make my own situation.' I didn't want to emulate (Duranko) and try to be as successful as Pete was."

So Smear became a Nittany Lion, grew into a defensive tackle and helped launch the Joe Paterno era. He became a starter as a sophomore and Paterno's teams won eight games in 1967 then went 22-0 in 1968 and '69 with a pair of Orange Bowl victories.

Smear played on the Penn State line alongside Outland Trophy winner Mike Reid of Altoona.

"Keep hustling and something good will happen," Smear said. "That's a lesson I learned in college from Coach Paterno. And it's the same thing in life."

He hustled off to Canada, where he helped the Montreal Alouettes win the CFL's Grey Cup in 1970. An all-American defensive tackle at Penn State, Smear played linebacker and defensive end during a six-year career in the Canadian league that included stops in Toronto and Saskatchewan.

After football, Smear settled in Annapolis, Maryland, to run his own insurance business and raise a family.

John Lux, who met "Stevie" Smear when they were sixth-graders, was not surprised that his St. Andrew's buddy went on to a successful run in college and pro football, then in the business world.

"Back in those days, you could see that he had the tools to be great at whatever sport he decided to play – basketball, football, even baseball," Lux said. "He excelled in basketball and football in grade school and right up through high school and then beyond. But the bigger thing was the person he was, the person he is."

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.