Photo courtesy of the NFL Hall of Fame
The intelligence Joe Schmidt brought to the linebacker position and his "clean but mean" tackling style both helped to glamorize the defense. "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."
Joseph Paul Schmidt wore No. 56 for Detroit from 1953 through 1965 and did it with such distinction that he was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1973. The Pittsburgh native was All-Pro in 10 of his 13 seasons, played in 10 Pro Bowl games (1955-64), which is tied for the most all-time by a Lions player, and he was named to the All-Decade Team of the 1950s. His teammates voted him their MVP four times (1955, 1957, 1958 and 1961). He served as captain of the Lions for nine seasons and made 24 career interceptions.
Schmidt called the defensive signals; run, pass, which direction, etc. He had to know the yard line, which hash mark the ball was on, the down and how far to a first down, personnel changes, the quarter, the score, opponent tendencies and the coverages available and then had to make sure everyone knew the call. All this in less than 30 seconds. Schmidt didn't exactly create the middle linebacker position but it was a job that was developed in the 1950s with the change of the ordinary defensive structure to the 4-3 frontal alignment.
Without question, he was the first to play the position with such finesse that even the masses in the stands could see the growing value of the "defensive quarterback". He anticipated plays with uncanny accuracy. He was a deadly tackler. He was fast enough to evade a 250-pound guard, to follow a play along the line or to drop back to cover a pass. He was strong enough to power past a potential blocker to crumble a play. But his greatest talent may well have been his uncanny knack of knowing what the opposition was going to do.
Among the Lions career record holders, Schmidt is third on the career opponent fumble recoveries list (16), and he has the single-season opponent fumble recoveries record of 8 that he set in 1958. Tom Kowalski of Booth News recently named Schmidt the greatest Lion of all-time, noting that one season (1960) Schmidt was named Associated Press NFL MVP not just for defense but for the entire league, a rarity for a defensive player (only four defensive players since 1957). In January 1967, a week before his 35th birthday and one bare season from the playing field, Schmidt was named head coach of the Lions and coached the club from 1967 to 1972. He lasted six seasons before a variety of non-coaching reasons induced him to announce his resignation on Jan. 12, 1973. One day later he was voted into the Hall of Fame. For Lions fans, he'd already been there a long time.
Schmidt's Career Lions Stats