Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Brentwood, Allegheny County
Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt played 13 years with the Detroit Lions.
Awards: Football Hall of Fame
On January 19, 1932, Joseph Schmidt was born in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Pittsburgh where he played football. His collegiate football career was plagued with many injuries although he was still recognized as an excellent player. Upon graduating, he was a seventh round draft pick for the Detroit Lions. Schmidt was a versatile middle linebacker who redefined the position and in his rookie season helped lead the Lions to win the NFL championship and the division title. Schmidt was All-Pro in eight of his 13 seasons and played in ten Pro Bowl games. He was also voted to the NFL all-league team ten times. One year after he stopped playing pro football he was named head coach of the Lions.
Joseph Schmidt was born January 19, 1932, in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. His love for football was evident in high school and at the age of 17 he had offers from several different colleges to play football. Wanting to stay in his hometown of Pittsburgh, he decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 1949. Schmidt started his career as a fullback and guard, and then later moved to the linebacker position where he established himself as a prototype for years to come. To this day he has been quoted saying "I love Pitt. It gave me the opportunity to do what I'd always wanted to do. I have a soft spot in my heart for Pitt."
Although Schmidt's college career had been weighed down with a long history of injuries, he was named captain during his senior year. His most famous collegiate football game was on October 11, 1952, against Notre Dame. Pitt had lost eight straight games against Notre Dame but was hoping to pull out a win. While the team was still inside the locker room before the game started, Schmidt asked the coaches to leave. He delivered a powerful speech to his teammates, leaving them with the message that they must win the game. Wearing jersey number 35, the highly-skilled linebacker returned an interception 60 yards to help beat Notre Dame 22-19. This game illustrates the leadership and athletic ability that Joe Schmidt brought to his brilliant football career. In his senior year, Schmidt received recognition from the International News Service naming him an All-American linebacker.
Because his collegiate career was plagued with a long history of injuries, the Detroit Lions waited until the seventh round of the college draft in 1953 before drafting him because they questioned his durability. The Detroit Lions had been known as a strong defensive team and after his first pro game Schmidt became the defensive leader for the Lions. During his first two seasons with the Lions, Schmidt played as an outside linebacker with five linemen and two linebackers. However this lineup developed a weakness in the center, so the Lions' head coach, Buddy Parker, switched to an unusual four linemen and three linebacker setup, with Schmidt moving into the middle.
This new setup required Schmidt to be an unusually versatile middle linebacker. He needed to be strong, quick, agile, fast, and smart enough to anticipate and execute each play. Schmidt filled this position admirably and in his rookie season he helped lead the Lions to win the NFL championship and the division title in 1954. Schmidt served as captain of the Lions for nine seasons, making 24 career interceptions.
During his 13-year NFL career, Schmidt developed the middle linebacker position into the dominant professional defensive position. Best known as one of football's great run-stoppers, Schmidt was voted All-Pro in eight of his 13 seasons and played in ten Pro Bowl games. He was also voted to the NFL all-league team ten times. "He was the best at his position," head coach Buddy Parker said. "He had an instinct for defense that few players ever acquire. He wasn't big, as defensive players go, but he was one of the surest and hardest tacklers you'll ever see." Although Schmidt received many honors, perhaps the greatest honor he received was the universal respect from his opponents and teammates in fact his teammates voted him their Most Valuable Player four times. His presence played a big role in changing defensive play in professional football.
In January 1967, only one year after he stopped playing pro football, Schmidt was named head coach of the Lions. He coached for six seasons before a variety of non-coaching reasons forced him to announce his resignation on January 12, 1973. One day later he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Joe Schmidt was also famous for his Hollywood roles. Schmidt can be seen in the 1968 movie, Paper Lion, and in the 1999 movie, Any Given Sunday. Schmidt stars as himself in both true stories. His unique talents can surely be seen on and off of the football field.