HAMPTON ——Wearing flip-flops and a backwards cap, Mike Smith wasn't dressed to be the guest of honor. And until the very last second — when his expression changed from "what the …?" to "are you kidding me?" — he didn't know he was.
It was a surprise party with a couple hundred of Smith's closest friends. His wife, Lisa, wanted to do something to honor the completion of his 40th season as Hampton's football coach. And after four months of planning, friends, family and former players showed up at Mill Point Park to celebrate.
"It didn't click until we got here. I said, 'Oh, that looks like Donald' — Donald's our next-door neighbor. He says, 'Yeah,' and he waves at him. Then he started seeing all these people he knows. And then he started looking at himself."
For a guy who has won 419 games (10.5 per season) and doesn't get fooled very often …
"I had no idea," he said. "When they said, 'Let's walk down by the water,' I was telling them, 'The water's that way!' It's great seeing these guys."
Fittingly, Queen's "We Are the Champions" blared out of the speakers when Smith arrived. Players from as far away as Minnesota and Texas, most of whom were on at least one of Smith's 12 state championship teams, cheered.
There was Dwight Stephenson, the center and anchor of Smith's first title-winning team in 1975. The Hall of Famer came here from Miami. There was Robert Banks, a defensive end who after his senior year in 1982 went on to play at Notre Dame and in the NFL. He lives in Houston. Nigel Bowe (a senior in 1980) came from Philadelphia.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Banks said. "When you win 400 games and have the success he's had as far as impacting young lives, that's a tremendous accomplishment."
"Coach Smith's a legend, man," Bowe said. "Even though right now Phoebus might be dominating the Peninsula District and the state, you have to realize that for years, and I mean years, Hampton High and Coach Smith was the dominant force in Virginia."
There was former Powell Valley coach Phil Robbins, third on the VHSL coaching list with 307 wins. (Hey, that's only 112 behind Smith). There was former Bethel coach Dennis Kozlowski, once Smith's rival but now good friend.
The state's two Division I-A programs were represented — Virginia Tech by assistant Curt Newsome, Smith's close friend; Virginia by head coach Mike London, a Bethel graduate.
Not to mention scores of others whose names you might not know but who are just as dear to Smith. And it was all kept a secret.
"He had no idea," Lisa Smith said. "He had no earthly idea."