Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Friendship Takes Longtime Smith Pal to `Field of Dreams'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Friendship Takes Longtime Smith Pal to `Field of Dreams'

Article excerpt

Mark Vittert and Jackie Smith met for the first time in the summer of 1964. Vittert, 16, was in the locker room at John Burroughs. Smith, after a workout at the prep school, nearly bumped into Vittert as he walked to the shower.

Vittert recalls: "Jackie said, `Pardon me, sir.' And I sort of mumbled, `Uh, that's OK. Yes, sir.' Here I am, some kid, and he's calling me sir. That's Jackie."

Ten years later, businessman Vittert solicited Smith's help in a charitable project. They clicked immediately. "We had a long talk, and just hit it off," Vittert said.

These two men - different ages, backgrounds and professions - became best friends. Didn't matter that Smith is rugged and muscular, and that Vittert has that look of a man who spends a lot of time behind a desk. Doesn't matter that Smith is a droll Southerner, and Vittert is a bubbly Midwesterner. Doesn't matter that one made a name catching footballs while the other made a name as a shrewd entrepreneur and media personality.

"We just try to do all the things you do with a good buddy," Vittert said. "You spend time together - not too much time - but where you are happy always being with each other. There's never been a time when we haven't been happy. A friendship with Jackie Larue Smith is just about tops."

The friendship went national Saturday morning, when Vittert had the honor of presenting Smith for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Vittert's presence was unique. Unlike the other five presenters, he wasn't a former coach, a football-media member, or relative.

Vittert's qualification? Two decades of enduring loyalty and friendship. That, and some effective, low-key campaigning - in concert with former Cardinals linebacker Tim Kearney - that won some crucial Hall of Fame votes for Smith.

The weekend was quite an experience for a football outsider. Friday at lunch, Vittert was seated at a table with National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Pat Summerall, Frank Gifford and Dick "Night Train" Lane. …

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