KENNER, La. (AP) — The wife of slain former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith said Friday that the defensive end's zest for life and refusal to accept failure has guided her recovery from the physical and emotional wounds she suffered on the night her "worst fear came true."
Racquel Smith, who was shot twice in the legs when her husband was fatally shot last April 9, made her first public remarks since Will Smith's death at the former Pro Bowl player's formal induction into the Saints Hall of Fame.
"There were days when I couldn't get out of bed, nor did I want to," Racquel Smith said. "I knew I had to be strong for my three beautiful kids, and that's when I felt Will the most — his strength, his determination, his commitment to being the best.
"Through my darkest days of my life, Will gave me so much," she continued. "He instilled so much in me and he showed me how to be strong. He always told me, 'Rocky, you can do this.'"
Will Smith was fatally shot following an argument over a relatively minor car accident, just blocks from New Orleans' renowned Garden District. Cardell Hayes, who remained on the scene until police arrived and has argued he fired in self-defense, has been indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in Smith's death. He has also been indicted on a charge of attempted second-degree murder in the wounding of Racquel Smith, who described having to learn to walk again because of nerve damage and a broken femur.
Prosecutors say Hayes provoked a confrontation by ramming his SUV into one driven by Smith. The defense has argued that Smith was the aggressor and that Hayes fired in self-defense after Smith went to his own car to get his gun.
Jury selection in Hayes' trial is scheduled Dec. 1. Racquel Smith, a potential witness in the case, did not take questions or make any public remarks at the Hall of Fame event beyond her prepared speech.
"I'm heart-broken that Will isn't here to accept this in person," she said. "In my heart, he is with us here today in spirit.
"He's proud as ever," she added. "I can hear his voice, and I so miss his voice."
Shortly before speaking, Racquel Smith intermittently wiped away tears as she and a Hall-of-Fame luncheon crowd packing a suburban country club ball room watched a video featuring highlights of Will Smith's playing career, as well as footage of the burley defensive end interacting with children at charitable events and football camps. At one moment, the video showed Smith nearly flipping over Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder as the sturdy Steelers quarterback tried to duck under Smith's tackle, only to have Smith latch onto his arm and pull him to the turf for a sack. Then there were scenes of Smith wearing a red and white Santa Claus hat with children on his lap.
About a month before Smith's death, a panel of veteran reporters covering the Saints elected him into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Smith, a former Ohio State standout whose Saints career spanned from 2004 to 2012 and featured 67½ sacks, was informed of the honor before his death.
Will and Racquel Smith's three children, Wynter, Williams and Lisa, also attended the induction. They smiled as they posted with their mother and other family members in front of a Hall-of-Fame portrait of Smith, which depicts him in a blazer, smiling and holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy that he helped the Saints win in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2009 season.
"Will, you will always be a part of me," Racquel Smith said. "I love you, Will. Congratulations, baby. You did it again."