Former Cowboys defensive lineman Don Smerek dead at 66 after cancer battle: ‘A great teammate’


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Don Smerek, a former Dallas Cowboys defensive star, died last week after a fight with cancer. He was 66.

Smerek played college football at Nevada. After going undrafted, Smerek eventually signed with the Cowboys in 1981. The defensive lineman went on to spend seven seasons with the franchise, playing in 69 games. 

He finished his career in Dallas with 14.5 sacks.


Don Smerek looks on during a Cowboys game

Defensive lineman Don Smerek #60 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on from the field during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Riverfront Stadium on December 8, 1985 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Bengals defeated the Cowboys 50-24. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

“He was a great teammate, a great person,” Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Cowboys standout Randy White said. “He was just solid as a football player and I can always count on him. He would come in on third downs and rush the passer and the thing about Don as a football player, he was 100 percent.”


White also recalled how he would often go fishing with Smerek.

“A great teammate playing football and we became really great friends off the field. He used to be my fishing partner and we used to go fishing and all the things that go along with that.”

Cowboys helmet

Detailed view of a Dallas Cowboys helmet and game ball prior to an NFL wild-card playoff football between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 14, 2024 in Arlington, Texas.  (Perry Knotts/Getty Images)

Smerek is a Nevada native and moved to Texas after he retired from the NFL. Smerek’s sister Debbie Nye spoke about her brother’s “magnetic personality.”

“His teammates are lifelong friends, even going back to high school, college and NFL,” Nye said via The Dallas Morning News. “There’s still all of those people, were pretty much by his side. He was a larger-than-life individual, a very magnetic personality.”


The family will honor Smerek’s life in a private memorial service that is expected to take place later this month in Henderson, Nevada. Smerek is survived by his wife, Tandi, his three brothers, his sister, as well as several nieces and nephews.

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