ATTEND A FOOTBALL GAME in Faribault, and you’ll cheer from Bruce Smith Field.
Peruse the Rice County Historical Society, a short distance from the football field, and you’ll discover an exhibit about Bruce Smith.
In mid-June, pop over to the Faribault Golf Club for the annual Bruce Smith Golf Classic.
Head downtown to Buckham Memorial Library and you’ll find a locally-produced DVD titled Bruce “Boo” Smith #54: 1941 Heisman trophy winner.
Now Faribault has added one more item to its Bruce Smith list—a mural. Last Friday the Mural Society of Faribault installed a downtown mural honoring Smith, who won the 1941 Heisman Trophy for most outstanding college football player. He was the first Minnesotan to garner that prize from the Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters of America. Smith, a team captain and All-American halfback for the University of Minnesota Gophers, received the award on December 9, 1941, in New York City. That’s two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
After college, Smith would go on to serve his country as a Navy fighter pilot during WW II. He also played football with the Navy.
While researching Smith, born in Faribault in 1920, I learned that he:
- played professional football for four years—for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
- starred in a 1942 Columbia Pictures movie about himself, Smith of Minnesota.
- nearly died of a ruptured kidney during a 1947 football game.
- retired from football at age 29.
- co-owned a sporting goods store in Northfield and worked in sales for a clothing store and a beer distributor. (Perhaps F-Town Brewing, Faribault’s new craft brewery, could name a beer after him; makes marketing sense to me.)
- died of cancer in August 1967 at the age of 47.
- was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
- had his number, 54, retired by the Gophers, a first for the U.
Probably the most interesting fact I uncovered is Smith’s 1978 nomination for sainthood in the Catholic church. A man of strong faith, he prayed before and after games and also ministered to young cancer patients. I find this nomination especially notable given today’s often less than saintly behavior among many football players. But from all accounts I’ve read, Smith was a wholesome hometown boy, much beloved by his community. And that, in my opinion, holds an honor as great as winning the Heisman Trophy.
FYI: The Bruce Smith mural is located on the back of Floors by Farmer at the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street Northwest in historic downtown Faribault. The latest mural joins murals of town founder Alexander Faribault (directly across from the Smith mural), Fleck’s Beer, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ice Skating on the Straight River, historic downtown Faribault overview and the annual Pet Parade. Faribault based Brushwork Signs designed, created and installed the murals.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling