J.D. Smith, a two-time Pro Bowl running back with the 49ers more than five decades ago, died at his home in Oakland on April 1. He was 83.
Smith played seven full seasons with the 49ers and was named to the Pro Bowl following the 1959 and ’62 seasons. He rushed for 1,036 yards in ’59, and was No. 2 on the 49ers’ career rushing list behind Hall of Famer Joe “The Jet” Perry when he played his final game with the organization in 1964.
Smith still ranks sixth on the 49ers’ all-time rushing list with 4,370 yards on 1,007 rushing attempts. Smith’s total of 37 rushing touchdowns is tied for fifth with Steve Young in 49ers’ history.
Smith was nicknamed the “Cinderella Man” for his against-all-odds path to NFL success. He entered the NFL in 1955 as a 15th-round pick of the Chicago Bears from North Carolina A&T. He spent a year in the Army during the Korean War before beginning his career with Chicago. After six games with the Bears in 1965, he was waived. The 49ers claimed him off waivers.
In addition to his two Pro Bowl appearances, Smith was also named the winner of the 49ers' prestigious Len Eshmont Award for his inspirational and courageous play in 1959. He played his final two NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys in 1965 and '66.
Smith scouted for 49ers for seven years after the end of his career. He coached local Pop Warner football teams well into his senior years, according to the 49ers. He lived in Oakland’s Laurel neighborhood and was an avid fisherman, gardener and jazz enthusiast.
Smith is preceded in death by his wife, Mary, his mother Louise, his father J.D. Smith Sr. and his brother, James. Smith is succeeded by his daughter, Patricia, and two sons, Lonnie and David, as well as three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Smith’s family will hold a private memorial service at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium. The family has asked that donations be made to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) Sports and Health Research program in lieu of flowers or other gifts.