Roger Smith

Today, Roger Smith sells insurance in Yankton.


Fifty years ago, he was taking the football field as many teams are doingtoday.

As a wide receiver/running back with the Ducks of the University ofOregon, Smith had the chance to take a role in and witness arguably the greatest era of college football — an era dominated by names such as O.J. Simpson, John McKay, Woody Hayes, Jack Tatum, Larry Csonka and Bob Griese.

And while the Ducks may not have matched some of their powerhouse competition, Smith still looks back at his time in Oregon — and his time rooting for them ever since — positively.

The Path To Oregon

How does a Yankton boy end up all the way out in Oregon toplay football? Smith said a family connection helped pave the way.

“My dad had a very good friend who lived in Portland, Oregon,” Smith said. “I was looking for a place to go to school around here — Minnesota, USD, South Dakota State. My dad said let me just call — his name was Bob Carr. He was born and raised in Yankton and my dad stayed with him when he came to Yankton College. He was a good friend of my dad’s and was kind of a father figure to my dad. My dad called Bob Carr and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll send him out to Oregon.”


It’s hard to imagine today, after years of consistently fielding strong teams, that Oregon was once an outsider in a powerful conference. When Smith first arrived in Oregon, the team was a part of the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU) — a conference the included Stanford University, the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Washington (UW), the University of California — Los Angeles (UCLA) and Oregon State University among others. The conference would change its name to the Pacific-8 (Pac-8) during Smith’s final season in 1968 and has expanded to become the present-day Pac-12. Prior to this, the Ducks had been without a conference between 1959-1963 and a part of the early Pac-12 predecessor Pacific Coast Conference before that.

Smith said better days were behind the Ducks by the time he attended.

“They went to the Rose Bowl in ’57,” he said. “Bob Berry was their quarterback — played with the (Minnesota) Vikings for many years —and they had good players. They were good in the early ‘60s. When I got there, we weren’t very good all of a sudden.”

In the years that Smith played (1966-1968), Oregon won only nine games, with their best year being a 4-6 effort in 1968.

Smith said the school also found itself well behind other schools in the league.

“Southern Cal, UCLA and Washington were the dominant teams by resources — people, money, facilities and so forth — and Oregon lagged way behind in those days,” he said. “We played at Hayward Field — the old track stadium — when I got there. We’d get 20-25,000 fans. It wasn’t a big deal.”


The mid-60s were a time of change throughout the country.

One notable instance occurred in 1965 when the annual Harris Poll saw football overtake baseball as the country’s most popular sport — a spot it has never relinquished since.

Smith had the opportunity to be a part of a major change on the University of Oregon campus.

“In 1967, they built a new stadium, got some facilities and people started taking notice,” he said. “They started to attend the games and started to fill the stadiums more than in previous years.”

The Ducks opened up then- 41,078 seat Autzen Stadium by hosting No. 9 Colorado. The Ducks lost the game 17-13. Smith returned to Oregon this month, along with other former players, to help commemorate Autzen Stadium’s 50th birthday.

In the ensuing years, Smith says he’s noticed a lot of other changes to the game.

“The biggest guy I ever played against in college was Ed White from California,” he said. “He played with the Vikings for a long time. Ed White was like 250 (lbs.). That’s about as big of a guy that played. Now, 250 is a small player. Then the speed is incredible — the speed of plays, the speed of running, the speed of throwing and catching. The game has changed drastically.”


Like other college teams, there were games that the teams that — no matter what — the Ducks wanted to win.

“The big rivalries that we wanted to win worse than other games were Stanford,” Smith said. “Washington was a rivalry. Oregon State, of course, was a big rivalry. Oregon State, back then, was tremendous. They were a power in the country.”

In addition to their rivalry games, Smith had opportunities to play against some of the biggest teams of the era including Oklahoma, USC and Ohio State.

“It was a great thrill,” he said. “Those were teams, growing up, I had followed. When I went to play at Oklahoma and went to play at Ohio State, those were big deals for me. I don’t think they were big deals for anyone else on the team. Those are big stadiums, big teams, big games, national powers for years. We played in front of 80,000 people at Ohio State, probably 70,000 at Oklahoma. Those were big games, compared to 25,000 in Eugene.”

Meeting The Assassin

While Smith never had an opportunity to meet them in person, Smith had the opportunity to play against two of the biggest college football players of the time — Jack “The Assassin” Tatum of Ohio State and O.J. Simpson of USC.

Though not properly introduced, Smith recalled a uniquely personal meeting with Tatum while playing against Ohio State.

“The first half of the game, I caught a little pass and thought, ‘I’m going to score.’” He said. “All of a sudden, Tatum hit me and I thought he killed me. It was the hardest hit I ever had playing football. It was just like a hammer.”

Tatum would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders where he built a reputation for hitting hard. Smith said Oregon also managed a minor victory against running back O.J. Simpson no other program was able to do at the time.

“There’s two games in his career … that he didn’t get 100 yards — one was in ’67 at Eugene and the other was in ’68 at Southern Cal,” he said.

“They just ganged up on him. Our defense was very good and held him, but we couldn’t score enough to beat them.

Simpson would go on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Buffalo Bills, long before the double-homicide trial that would make his name infamous.

Going Pro

The 1960s saw an explosion of options for college players interested in going pro.

The American Football League had given more players more opportunities while the National Football League expanded to help contain the rival league that they would eventually merge with.

Smith said he even contemplated getting into professional football.

“I was going to try out in Canada,” he said. “Some of my teammates had played in Canada and were already up there, and a couple were going and I was going to go with them. … I had no inclination that I was going to play in the NFL, but I thought maybe I could play in Canada.”

However, Smith wouldn’t get the chance.

“I was working out in Eugene and snapped my Achilles tendon,” he said. “That was the end of my playing.”

Being A Fan

As with all former players, Smith found himself eventually transitioning into being a fan.

It was kind of a difficult transition at first.

“I’m not a very good fan,” he said. “When I was young, I was noisy — loud probably — but now I’m a little more quiet, but I enjoy the game. Players see it from a different angle than a non-player fan. You’re interested in what they’re doing, what they’re trying to do, if it works or not, if they’re going to change things or not, good coaching, bad coaching and all of those kinds of things.”

He added that the proceeding Oregon teams didn’t always make it easy on him.

“After I left, we weren’t very good for a long time,” he said. “Twenty years, they didn’t have much success.”

From 1969-1988, the team only registered five winning seasons and no bowl game appearances.

Then, the culture shifted.

“Rich Brooks came along and had some success,” he said. “He beat Oregon State every year, so he kept his job and they started getting good.”

This culminated in a 1989 Independence Bowl victory over Tulsa University.

Since 1989, the Ducks have only failed to make a bowl game five times.

“They’re not a Nebraska that’s been doing it since 1960 — they’ve been doing it since 1990,” Smith said. “They’re a Johnny-come-lately as far as having success on the football field. … A lot of my friends have said ‘It’s not going to last. Let’s enjoy it while we can because it’s been a tremendous run.’ They win more games in one year than in all the years I played.”

Smith said he goes to about two or three Oregon games each season and has attended a number of bowl games that they’ve played in.

Additionally, he’s attended the two biggest games in the program’s history — the 2010 BCS National Championship against Auburn and the 2014 College Football Championship against Ohio State.

“Those were two great times,” he said. “They had a chance to beat Auburn and didn’t. Oregon ran out of players and ran out of gas against Ohio State. They thumped them towards the end. … That was tremendous excitement. I didn’t think ever in my lifetime they’d play for a national championship. Then they are in two of them in a 5-6 year span, which is kind of unbelievable coming from where they came from when I was playing.”

Though Roger Smith may have never experienced a winning season in college, won a Heisman Trophy or caught a pass in the professional game, he said he’s still proud of his whole Oregon experience.

“The greatest thing that happened to me in Oregon was I met my wife and had three daughters with her,” he said. “I had great friends out there and am still great friends with a lot of them. I saw a lot of things I never would’ve seen had I not gone there. I had a lot of fun and had a great time. Did we win as many games as we’d like? No. But it was a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”