FILE -- This is a Sept. 8, 1996, file photo showing Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith (78) celebrating a sack of New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe as Bills linebacker Mark Maddox, rear, applauds, during the third quarter of their NFL gam
Kevin Higley, File
May 11, 2016

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) No one had as many sacks as Bruce Smith, and no one will ever wear his No. 78 jersey with the Buffalo Bills again.

The Bills announced Wednesday that they will be retiring Smith's number at halftime during the team's prime-time home-opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 15.

''I was a little numb. I was in somewhat of I would say, disbelief,'' Smith said during a conference call. ''This will be a celebration for the fans, the Buffalo Bills organization and the NFL.''

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly's No. 12 is the only other jersey retired by the Bills.

Selected by Buffalo with the No. 1 pick in the 1985 draft out of Virginia Tech, Smith became the NFL's premier pass-rusher during a 19-year career, which ended in Washington in 2003. He holds the league record with 200 career sacks, with 171 of them coming during his 15 seasons in Buffalo.

Smith was the NFL's defensive player of the year in 1990 and `96, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Having his number retired ranks among Smith's top highlights.

''I didn't know exactly what I was getting into and the expectations, but I quickly learned.'' Smith said. ''I've got to tell you, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences that God could've placed in front of me. I'm truly grateful and thankful.''

With Kelly and fellow Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed playing key roles on offense, Smith was the focal point on the Bills defense. Together, the foursome was part of a Marv Levy-coached team that made and lost four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s.

Bills President Russ Brandon said the case could be made of Smith being regarded as the NFL's greatest player. He added that the plan to retiring Smith's number was on his to-do list, and prompted by owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who purchased the franchise from the estate of late Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson in 2014.

Smith grew emotional in noting how he was informed of the honor a day after Mother's Day, knowing what this would have meant to his mother, Annie Lee, who died two years ago.

''Every Mother's Day it kind of gets to me,'' he said. ''I know she's watching from afar, and she's one of those angels that continues to pray for me. So I'm very blessed.''

Smith's mood brightened when recalling a get-together he and a number of his former teammates, including Kelly, had during the Super Bowl festivities in California in February.

''I like to instigate things,'' Smith said. ''So I looked to Jim after about the third or fourth glass of wine and said, `Jim, how'd you get your jersey retired before any of us. You weren't even the best player on the team?'''

Smith broke into a laugh, and noted the close bond remains between the former Bills.

''Although it's been a couple of decades since we actually played together, it feels like it was just yesterday,'' Smith said. ''You just feel like you're right at home.''

In other Bills news, the team signed rookie cornerback Kevon Seymour, the second of Buffalo's two sixth-round draft picks. He is the first of the Bills seven draft selections to sign a contract.


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