SPORTS J.W. SMITH, who has been on the sidelines for every down the Cowboys have played at the Cotton Bowl or Texas Stadium, is not the world’s oldest backup punter. He’s chief of the Cowboys’ “Chain Gang,” the crew that moves the down markers up and down the sidelines.
Smith, 58, met tTEX SCHRAMMand TOM LANDRY at a Saturday Morning Quarterbacks Club meeting in December 1959, months before the Cowboys played their first game in the NFL. They hired him soon after.
Like almost everyone in the franchise, Smith wasn’t sure about his future when JERRY JONES took over the Cowboys. “I got a letter this spring asking for the names of my crew,” Smith explains. “Up until then I really didn’t know if we’d be back or not.”
Smith’s concern for his crew is understandable, since all six of them are either his nephews or great-nephews.
“It started out with just three of us,” Smith recalls. “Two guys to hold the chains and one to keep the downs. In the beginning I did it with my brother and another fellow. For about the last ten years, it’s all been in the family. Every game is like a family reunion.”
Needless to say, standing just a few yards from the thick of an NFL game can at times be hazardous to the health of the family.
“I try and watch the games,” says Smith, “but you have to be looking both ways down the sidelines, or else you’ll get run into, I broke a finger on my left hand in ’65, and a guy on the crew broke a leg in ’64. When a play is coming, you watch the guys trailing the ball carrier. They’re the ones who’re more likely to run into you.”