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Don Smerek, a former defensive lineman for the Cowboys, passed away at the age of 66 after battling cancer.

Former Cowboys DL Don Smerek dies of cancer at age 66

Don Smerek, a former defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s, has died of cancer at the age of 66.

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Smelek joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1981 and played seven seasons, appearing in 69 games and recording 14.5 sacks in his career.


His NFL career had some ups and downs, including a rookie season marred by broken ribs and a knee injury that put him on injured reserve in 1981.

He also survived being shot in the chest just four weeks after his knee injury. Despite these setbacks, he made a remarkable recovery and returned to the field just 11 months later.

Smelek primarily played as a pass rush specialist and filled in for various injured teammates throughout his career. Smelek, who is 1.90 meters tall, played as a pass rush specialist at both the defensive end and tackle positions.

He filled in for injured players such as John Dutton, Harvey Martin, and Randy White. His teammate White praised Smelek’s reliability and dedication.

Smelek’s career spanned 69 games with the Cowboys, where he recorded 14.5 sacks and appeared in five postseason contests.

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He also remained a loyal teammate and walked the picket line during the 1987 NFLPA strike. Smelek retired in his 1988 year and maintained a close friendship with Hall of Famer Randy White, sharing fishing adventures and memories.

He played exclusively for the Cowboys and finished his NFL career with 69 regular season games and 14.5 sacks. Smerek is survived by his wife, Tandy, three brothers, Jeff, Ron and Dennis, a sister, Debbie, and several nieces and nephews.

The family plans to hold a private memorial service in Henderson, Nevada, in late March.

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