DENVER – Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith entered the league as an undrafted rookie, and now his name is about to go up in lights after being elected into the team’s Ring of Fame on Thursday.
Smith, who set every major receiving record in franchise history, becomes the 23rd member of the Broncos to have his name etched into the inner facade encircling Sports Authority Field at Mile High. He will be inducted during a halftime ceremony Sept. 23.
He’s just hoping he can keep his emotions under control.
“I’m going to try not to be (emotional), but it is a big deal,” Smith said. “It is a stepping stone in your life. It means you did something right. They don’t put your name (up there) if you didn’t go out there and represent yourself a certain way and you play with a certain passion for the game.”
A college free agent out of Missouri Southern, Smith finished his career with 849 catches for 11,389 yards receiving and 68 touchdowns.
He also helped the Broncos to two Super Bowls and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
“Players like Rod don’t come through your door very often, but he came through ours every day with a purpose and hunger to be great,” owner Pat Bowlen said. “Rod’s production and numbers – as outstanding as they were – paled in comparison to his commitment to winning and the respect he commanded from each and every one of his teammates throughout his career.”
Smith had a club-record eight 1,000-yard seasons. He also has three of the top-10 single-season reception totals in team history, including a 113-catch performance in 2001.
“Rod brought his lunch pail to work each day, took nothing for granted and made himself into an elite player,” said Broncos boss John Elway, who played with Smith. “He’s a true pro. In addition to being one of the greatest undrafted players of all time, he’s one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the position.”
Smith’s last season was 2006 as an aching hip finally forced him to the sideline.
He spent his rookie season in 1994 on the Broncos’ practice squad. His first NFL reception was against the Washington Redskins on Sept. 17, 1995, when he hauled in a 43-yard pass from Elway as time expired to lift the Broncos to a 38-31 victory.
It simply was a glimpse of things to come.
Smith helped Denver to seven postseason appearances, three AFC West crowns and, of course, two Super Bowl titles. Even more, the Broncos had a 126-70 record in games in which Smith played.
“Although he had plenty of catches and touchdowns in his career, the only things that mattered to Rod were winning and competing for Super Bowls,” Elway said. “That’s what was most important to him, and it showed in everything he did. Whether it was in the passing game or running game, you always knew Rod would give 100 percent on every play and do whatever it took to help his team win.”
That’s because he played with a chip on his shoulder pads – and really always has.
“I was hungry. I stayed hungry. I’m still hungry now,” Smith said. “There is something about the human spirit, you just have to be hungry 24/7. A lot of guys now, and I’m a little bit on the outside – not too far removed – but a lot of those guys figure they have it made because they got to the NFL.
“I knew where I wanted to go, and I knew I was going to outwork everyone else. When they were gone, I was still working. When they were asleep, I was still working. That right there – work – works. I tell people that all the time: work works.”
Now, he has to think of a way to top Shannon Sharpe’s Ring of Fame entrance. The Hall of Fame tight end made his appearance by parachuting into the stadium.
“I’m not coming in like that,” Smith cracked. “I can think of some real cool cars or something like that we can come in with – some stuff I probably wouldn’t buy myself, but Mr. Bowlen has the money so he might be able to just rent one for me. We’ll pass that along. I’m just throwing a little hint out there for some crazy, exotic car that nobody has seen and be able to come in that.
“But I’m not going to be jumping out of any plane, we can promise you that.”