By now, you've seen the play several times.
In the fourth quarter of the 2013 Outback Bowl, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney blew through a Michigan offensive line that just plain forgot to block the most dangerous defensive lineman in recent college football history. As a result, he ended up unloading a monstrous hit on Michigan tailback Vincent Smith, blowing his helmet off and jarring loose a fumble that Clowney recovered. The play swung the game back in South Carolina's favor after a comically bad call that went in Michigan's favor, and the Gamecocks would go on to win the game.
It was a hit of a lifetime—not only for Clowney, but for Smith as well. Most guys who have ever played football have never been wrecked like that and will never get wrecked like that.
But, as you might imagine, Smith isn't particularly interested in being "The Guy Clowney Almost Decapitated" for the rest of his life, and as he told Michael Rothstein at ESPN.com, he has already moved on.
Smith went on to say:
"I couldn't duck or try anything," Smith said. "My head wasn't even down and that's why my helmet popped off."
Smith has shrugged it off, saying he watched it "two or three times" when he got back home after the Outback Bowl and then moved on. Now, a couple of weeks after the hit, he said he didn't even really feel it, evidenced by his reaching for the ball as he was falling to the ground and popping up right after.
It looked, he said, worse than it was.
"Oh yeah, it did," Smith said. "I saw it and was like, 'Dang.' "
This is the proper response from Smith. He can't say that it wasn't a big hit, because, come on, it was insane. He saw what we all saw, and he had the added misfortune of being there to experience it directly.
But, as Smith notes, it didn't exactly kill him. Even with his helmet flying so far off of him that a South Carolina bar put out a "missing" ad for it, Smith wasn't injured and he popped right back up. While it's a nationally notorious hit to fans, it was simply just another hit to Smith.
So why would he dwell on it?
Let's take a look at a personal anecdote. Thirteen years ago, I was a D-III football player (this is a generous use of the term "player"), and one day at practice, the coaches put me on the front line of the kick return team during special teams drills. It must have been out of morbid curiosity, I suppose.
On the last kick of practice, the kickoff team ran an onside kick to my side, but in an instance of charity, it was kicked well away from me. Still, it was enough to get the kick coverage guys flowing my way, and I noticed that when the starting strong safety—the meanest dude on the team—was about three yards away and laser-locked on my earhole.
Man, that was the hit of my life. I got decleated, bounced and spun in the air before I landed again. I'm glad nobody was paying attention since it was away from the ball, but I must have covered five or six yards from impact to landing. It was a clean hit, and I didn't take a direct shot to the head (either on the hit or the landing) nor did I get the wind knocked out of me, so I was fine. I could have participated in the next kick drill if the play being discussed were not the last play of the day.
Let's be clear, though: the aforementioned hit was a love tap compared to the hit that Clowney put on Smith. But, in the end, Smith was fine, too.
I remember the hit now, and Smith will always remember the Clowney hit for the same reasons. But it didn't stop me from playing at the time, and Smith's approach seems to be the same. Look, it's just a fact that you're going to take some big shots in football, and if you can get up from them, then it doesn't matter what they looked like or how many people saw them. You just have to keep playing.
And if Vincent Smith gets a call from an NFL team, and then finds himself in the backfield with Jadeveon Clowney lining up across the line for whatever team he lands on, you'd better believe that Smith will still keep playing.