SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — At first, Antonio Smith thought about running out of the team hotel and catching the first flight home after his mother awakened him with news of his father’s death following heart surgery.
“But I know I got a greater purpose and a greater responsibility here on this stage,” Smith said Thursday, a day after that phone call shattered the joy of Super Bowl week for him.
Denver’s defensive end will play Sunday when the Broncos take on the Carolina Panthers. It’s not so much to honor Marty Christopher Williams, 58, but to salute the way his father lived his life even after being sentenced to life in prison.
Williams had been incarcerated in Oklahoma since 1991 for a murder his family contends he didn’t commit.
“I would definitely say he was one of my biggest fans and he would have loved for me to play as best as I could for the glory of the Lord in the same way he lived his life,” Smith said. “So, I would say more of that.”
His heart heavy, Smith said it “was kind of hard to focus on football” as the team buses followed police on motorcycles and a helicopter into Stanford Stadium for practice Wednesday, a few hours after he heard the news. But once inside, he relaxed.
“Right before I got out to stretch I had a pretty hard time, but football comes second nature,” Smith said. “Sometimes I don’t even think I need to practice football. But I think it’s all part of the responsibility, part of the role of being a leader and trying to make your life mean something more than just for you.”
Smith, 34, is a 12-year NFL veteran who joined the Broncos this season after his release from the Oakland Raiders. He was a key member of the league’s top defense and posted 2 1/2 sacks in the regular season and another in the playoffs.
“Man, ‘Tone, that was an awesome pickup for us, just to add another veteran and his leadership,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “Guys love him and this is just something else to add motivation for this team, just go play for him, too.”
A leader in the locker room, his cut-up personality is a key component of the chemistry that helped Denver’s defense rise to the top of the NFL this season.
Smith said he’ll play Super Bowl 50 with his usual infectious enthusiasm, too.
“I definitely cannot hide that. It’s in my DNA. That’s the way God made me,” Smith said. “That’s just how I play. I’m going to play with the same smile on my face.”
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton