Revisiting tragedy at Johns Hopkins
While working on an article for Wednesday’s edition on how teams deal with tragedy in the midst of a season, I talked to Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, who played for an assistant coach afflicted with cancer.
Fred Smith was involved in Johns Hopkins lacrosse for 40 years as both player and coach. Smith and current Denver head coach Bill Tierney served as co-defensive coordinators in 1987 despite Smith battling lung cancer.
Pietramala, who was a sophomore defenseman that year, was part of a unit that helped the Blue Jays upset No. 1 Maryland, 13-8, in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Smith was present for that game at Rutgers, but he returned home and died shortly after the program captured its seventh national title.
Pietramala, who called Smith "the granddad of Hopkins lacrosse," said Smith was a trusted voice among the players, who gained inspiration from their coach.
"Fred was a guy who wouldn’t really let you know. It was a battle that he didn’t necessarily allow us to fight with him. We all knew that he was sick toward the end. It was always something where you wanted to play for Freddy. He was such a special man. To me, it felt like it was me against the world, and he was the only ally that I had. He was just such a special guy that when we realized how sick he was and when the coaches told us that he was going home and wouldn’t be with us for the championship, I think we kind of realized, ‘Holy cow, Freddy’s not going to be here. Things must be really bad.’ Because Freddy was tough. He never missed anything. And the way we got through it was that we persevered for him. He was just such an important part of at least my life, that you said to yourself and to your teammates, ‘We’re going to play for Freddy. We’re going to play for ourselves, but we’re going to play for Freddy.’"
Smith is so revered by Pietramala that a framed picture of Smith hangs on the wall of Pietramala's office -- directly beneath a framed picture of NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi.
"When I walk in, I’ve got a picture of him before warm-ups in the Maryland game," Pietramala said. "It was given to me when I got the head coaching job here by my former head coach, Don Zimmerman. He said to me, ‘Freddie would’ve been proud of you, and he’ll always be looking out for you.’"