Imagine walking into a College Football Playoff National Championship Game armed with the knowledge that you had Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, AND a future Philadelphia Eagles star named DeVonta Smith at your disposal at the wide receiver position. That's the situation the Alabama Crimson Tide was in ahead of their showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs on January 8th of 2018.
Bama's running back room at that time consisted of Josh Jacobs, Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr., and Damien Harris. Sheesh... Talk about an embarrassment of riches, but if you'll remember, DeVonta wasn't the star on that team at that time.
As a true freshman during the 2017 NCAA football season, the future Heisman Trophy winner caught eight receptions for 160 yards and scored three touchdowns in eight games. Heck, these days, depending on who the Eagles are playing, that could be a day's work if Smith saw enough opportunities and some lackluster coverage on a Sunday afternoon.
You have to remember however that, again, in those days, Smith was the understudy much like the greatest NBA star of all time, Michael Jordan, was the new kid on the block 36 years earlier in Chapel Hill.
Sue us, but every time we think of DeVonta Smith's catch in the CFP National Championship Game, we think about Michael Jordan's shot versus the Georgetown Hoyas in 1982.
Long before Michael Jordan was an American businessman and the force behind the most popular athletic shoe on the market, he was a freshman on the North Carolina Tar Heels 1981-1982 Men's Basketball Team. As would be the case with DeVonta almost four decades later, Jordan wasn't the star of the show yet. UNC was led by James Worthy and Sam Perkins at that time. Here's where DeVonta and MJ can crack a beer and smile though, Both were called upon in a crisis and stepped up when their teams needed them most.
Many moons ago, the Heels found themselves down on the scoreboard late versus the Georgetown Hoyas in the 1982 NCAA Championship Game. It would be the freshman to knock down the shot to put his team ahead with 17 seconds remaining.
In the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, Smith found himself in the game as well. He hauled in the game-winning reception in overtime, a 41-yard TD off of the arm of Tua Tagovailoa. This followed a sack to place The Crimson Tide behind the 8-ball and in a 2nd-and-26 scenario.
They say great coaches place their players in the best position to be successful. Consider exhibits A and B. Credit Dean Smith, Nick Saban, and their coaching staffs for throwing the alley-oop passes. The following clips were made possible in part by two legendary coaches
His Alabama teammates used to say "Smitty catches everything". And, how about another round of applause for Dean Smith and Saban? They didn't need to be told that greatness existed in both MJ and DeVonta. They knew that both would be ready when their numbers were called, and they were. Look closely. You won't see any doubt in the body language of either of these young men.
If you're a little hazy about what DeVonta Smith has been doing since then, here's your update. He has a little work to do in terms of catching Jordan in terms of championships won, but if he does, he'll need to buy a bigger trophy case. His 2020 season in Bama gave him a ton of hardware to show off.
Smith was the tenth player selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. He set the Eagles franchise reception for receiving yards by a rookie in year one. Year two was capped with the former Heisman Trophy winner nabbing the franchise record for single-season receptions by a wide receiver.
People place the names of young stars in the same sentences with legends far too frequently. More often than not, those comparisons are unfair. In this sense, it works. Dean Smith saw something in a young Michael Jordan and told him not to be afraid if he found himself with an open shot. NIck Saban and his staff knew, in crisis, that if the ball was thrown in Smith's direction, that he'd be ready.
It's too early to tell if we'll someday view DeVonta in the same lens as Michael Jordan, but we hope that's the case. We hear the G.O.A.T. has done pretty well for himself and turned out to be successful. From where we're sitting, it appears that Number 6 will make a little noise in the NFL, and he will be fine as well.