Stephen A. Smith is a renowned sports writer and media personality from the borough of Queens in New York City. An area of the nation known for producing candid individuals – tennis great John McEnroe, NBA star Ron Artest, Mafia don John Gotti, entrepreneur Donald Trump, etc. – Smith quickly became known for his outspoken public image. This no limit attitude thrust him into prominence in the world of sports. Over the years, his demeanor and stance on issues has merited the nickname, “Screamin’ A. Smith.”
At 39 years old, Smith swiftly made a name for himself. He attended college at Winston-Salem State, and immediately following graduation, interned at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He began his career covering high school sports for the New York Daily News.
In 1994, he joined the Philadelphia Inquirer, his current home, where he covers Temple University, the NBA’s 76ers and other sports. He also hosts his own television show, “Quite Frankly,” and frequents additional ESPN shows and radio programs.
While visiting Columbus, Smith shared his thoughts on Ohio State, Columbus, football, campus and predictions for Saturday’s showdown.
The Lantern: What do you think of Ohio State?
Stephen A. Smith: This is my first time here. I had a beautiful experience here. The people are very hospitable, the campus is huge!
The football stadium is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in sports. I love it. You hear a lot about “The Shoe” and the tradition that it entails. To see it up close and personal – it’s little things like that remind you why you got into sports writing. The fact is that I have been a journalist for 13 years and it reminds you of why you get into this industry because you realize that there are moments that you are going to experience that other people aren’t going to get the opportunity to do.
TL: How does OSU compare to Winston-Salem State?
SAS: Oh! There is no comparison. Aesthetically speaking, there is no comparison. Winston-Salem State University is not half the size of Ohio State obviously. It’s a university – Ohio State is like a town.
If you are talking about the college experience, I think all college experiences are comparable. You might not have No. 1 going against No. 2 in the nation – that’s a different experience altogether – but for everybody that can say, ‘Well you went to Winston-Salem State, how would you know?’ I’d say, ‘Well what about Temple? What about North Carolina? What about Duke?’ They aren’t experiencing this either. So it’s really not about the university, it’s more about the programs. And Ohio State and Michigan – in terms of college football – is as elite as it gets. But in terms of the college experience – nothing beats college. They say college is the greatest four years of your life and I’m here to tell you that certainly applied to me, even at a small, historically black institution like Winston-Salem State.
TL: Do you think Ohio State versus Michigan is the biggest rivalry in sports?
SAS: I think so. When I think about rivalries I think about two things. I think about Ohio State-Michigan football and I think about Duke-North Carolina basketball. Those are the two greatest rivalries in all of sports on any level.
TL: Do you think there is a chance that after Saturday they could meet again in the National Championship?
SAS: I think there is a chance and I think there should be. Surprisingly, the Ohio State football players I’ve spoken to along with the people at Michigan say:
‘No, its one and done. You play, that’s the National Championship. You shouldn’t be allowed a second chance in the same season. That’s not how it works because those outcomes shouldn’t be resolved in Arizona or California or any place like that. You’re on one or the other’s home turf – that’s how it should be. If you are going to meet, it should be that one meeting and nothing else.’
I disagree with that. I believe when you have all these one-loss teams behind them – the USC’s, the California’s – teams like that, when you have a two-loss team like Texas, when you have teams like Florida or Auburn, forget all of that stuff. If this comes down to a nail biter and it’s decided in the last two minutes – No. 1 versus No. 2 in the country – then they should meet again in the National Championship.
Now if one of them gets blown out, then they should dip in the rankings. But if it’s a nail biter and it comes down to the wire, and it’s (No.) 1 against (No.) 2 in the nation, I don’t think anybody else should be in that National Championship.
TL: Who do you think is the Heisman favorite right now?
SAS: It has got to be Troy Smith!
I mean obviously Brady Quinn definitely deserves consideration. But when you consider the way Michigan went up and spanked them on their home turf and the way Notre Dame was struggling on too many occasions this season – I don’t know if you can make the decision that Brady Quinn is the guy. I would say that Troy Smith, with the year that Ohio State has had, the kind of season that he has had – passing for over 2,000 yards, doing all the things he has been doing, especially if they end up beating Michigan Saturday – I would definitely think that [Smith] deserves the Heisman.
TL: So you think it’s his to lose?
SAS: I think it’s his to lose because I think if he performs in a big game – and a game of this magnitude against Michigan – how can you not give it to him?
Now if he doesn’t perform, and he looks like garbage, that is an entirely different ballgame. Now all of sudden you are going to start talking about Brady Quinn all over again.
TL: Will you be at the game?
SAS: I’m not going to be here. I have to work Saturday. But don’t rule it out because I might sneak here anyway. But as of right now it doesn’t look like I will be at this game.
TL: Will you be watching it?
SAS: I will not miss it. I am scheduled to work till 3 p.m., but if I can get around it, I will be here.
TL: To put you on the spot, who do you pick on Saturday?
SAS: I picked Ohio State 31-21. I like Michigan – I like them a lot. Their front seven is as viscous as it gets. They are going to come at Troy, and they have to do everything they can to stop Troy, but Troy is a bad boy. By that I mean he doesn’t just throw the football, he can run the football. He has had his way with Michigan the last couple of years.
Too many weapons – Teddy Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Antonio Pittman in the backfield. When you look at the offensive weapons that Troy Smith has at his disposal, as awesome as Michigan’s front seven is, I can’t imagine how they will stop Ohio State.
Not to mention the fact that they are coming into Columbus. If this were at Michigan Stadium it could be a pick ’em. Or you could even conceive of Michigan winning. But it’s pretty hard to believe that Michigan is going to walk into Columbus, Ohio – in front of 105,000 people, with this noise, with this rabid atmosphere, against the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, with the National Championship on the line, against their most-hated rival – I cannot imagine Michigan winning this game. If Michigan wins this game, they deserve the National Championship.