Step aside, LT, Smith is on mission for attention


NEW YORK HE CLAIMED he lifted his game "a notch above" Lawrence Taylor's defensive dominance in the '80s. He said "it'd be an injustice" if he's not named the NFL's Most Valuable Player. He insisted he doesn't get "the recognition I deserve."

Apparently, Bruce Smith hasn't found Buffalo's spotlight bright enough.

The 6-foot-4, 275-pound, three-time All-Pro defensive end used yesterday's conference call to conduct a 10-minute "Bruce Smith for Superstar" campaign. It was a lively advance for Saturday's ,, game between the 11-2 Giants and the 11-2 Bills at the Meadowlands.

The highlight of Smith's many memorable responses to a variety direct questions was his comparison to LT when asked if playing in the same game as one of the NFL's marquee players provides added motivation.

"Without a doubt," Smith said. "I think that over the last 10 years he's probably been the most dominant player in the league. I just think right now I've taken it up a notch above that.

"I can't take anything away from Lawrence. I've admired him for so many years. As a matter of fact, Lawrence grew up about 30 minutes outside of where I live, back in Norfolk, Va. He's from Williamsburg, I believe. He's a friend of mine. And like I said, I respect him. But right now it's time to give credit to the person that really deserves it right now."

Smith undoubtedly deserves it. He leads the NFL with 19 sacks, including the four he registered in Buffalo's 31-7 rout of the Colts on Sunday. He's had at least one sack in 10 of 13 games and more than one in eight of those. He's three shy of the NFL-record 22 sacks Mark Gastineau registered as the flamboyant symbol of the Jets' New York Sack Exchange in 1984, the third year sacks became an official NFL stat.

Do you think you have a shot at MVP of the league, Bruce?

Smith chuckled softly. "Like I said, it would be an injustice if I didn't get it."

Only two defensive players have been named MVP since the AFL-NFL merger in 1960: Minnesota's Alan Page in 1971 and LT in '86. Like LT, Smith, 27, who was drafted first overall in '85 out of Virginia Tech, missed the first four games of the '88 season serving a suspension for substance abuse. Like LT, he's one of the game's highest paid defenders. LT tops the list at $1.55 million. Smith is third at $1.3 million, $50,000 behind the Eagles' Reggie White.

The conference call began with Smith answering general questions. It came alive when he was asked: Do you feel you get the recognition you deserve?

"Noooo," he began, as if unleashed from the line of scrimmage on third-and-25. "For one reason, in Buffalo we only have one newspaper and they're against us. They'd rather see us lose than win. We don't get a whole lot of positive things out of that newspaper.

"No, I don't think I've gotten the recognition I deserve. I don't think it's fair, but I guess it keeps you hungry. Each and every week I take it as a personal challenge to go out and see how much better I can get."

Are you the best defensive player in the league right now?

"I think right now, yes I am," he said. "The last 13 games I have really surprised myself. I'm sure I've surprised a lot of people, and I've made believers out of a lot of people. Believe me, it would be a terrible injustice if I wasn't recognized to that extent this year as being the best defensive player in the league."

Then he was asked about matching up against Giants left tackle Jumbo Elliott.

"I think the key to that is, I'm sure they're going to double me and sometimes triple-team me," he said. "That's what I'm hoping that they do because that turns me on even more. When they do things like that to me, it opens up a lot of things for people such as [linebackers] Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett."

Is there anybody in the NFL who can block you one-on-one right now?

"For a full game? No."

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