Though many have dated innovations in the facemasks to the 1950s — and indeed that is when such protection became commonplace in the NFL — note the early version worn by the bespectacled Giants defender at right (11).
This was Smith’s fourth and last season with the Rams. He entered the U.S. Navy during World War II, played for a military football team coached by the legendary Paul Brown, and upon discharge still was legally committed to the Rams — but, along with four other former Rams players, successfully eluded his contract because the team had moved to Los Angeles. “I decided if I couldn’t play football in Cleveland, I wouldn’t play at all,” he said. Instead he played one more season with the All America Football Conference champion Cleveland Browns, subbing for future Pro Football Hall of Famer Marion Motley.
Smith sadly met an early demise in 1958, dying suddenly at the age of 42 in his Cleveland home. He still is remembered as “Gaylon the Great” in Memphis where he was a star for Southwestern University (now Rhodes College).
(Photo courtesy the Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State University.)