The Denver Broncos will induct former wide-receiver great Rod Smith into the team’s Ring of Fame at halftime of this Sunday’s game versus the Houston Texans. Smith is one of the all-time great Cinderella stories in recent NFL history. He was an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Southern State. Smith spent a year on the Broncos practice squad in 1994, before making his professional debut in 1995 and what a debut it was.
The Broncos were tied with the Washington Redskins at 31 with just a few seconds remaining, and the ball at midfield. John Elway dropped back to pass and let go of what was thought to be a Hail Mary, but there were two Redskins and only one Bronco in the area. All of the sudden two hands emerge from the group of three players and when the dust had cleared, Smith had the football for his first NFL catch and a Broncos touchdown to win the game. That single play typified Smith’s career; when no one thought he had a chance, he came up big.
Smith was never considered by outsiders as one of the best receivers in football but his numbers suggest differently. He finished his career with 849 receptions, 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns. Those numbers are very comparable to Michael Irvin’s, who is in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Smith has 99 more receptions, more touchdowns and roughly the same number of yards. In addition to the stats, Smith also has two Super Bowl Rings and was a big part of a number of great Bronco offenses. A case can and should be made for Smith to be enshrined in Canton someday, but his greatest strength might work against him in that chase.
Smith, unlike so many receivers, was a team first guy. He didn’t care a bit about his personal numbers, as long as the Broncos were winning. In Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos first championship, Smith had zero catches and no one was happier than he was after the game. Others may have had more talent than Smith, but no one worked harder or cared more. In fourteen seasons with the Broncos, he never missed an off-season workout and rarely missed practices. Smith was there for every game until a hip injury in his final season finally forced him to the sidelines.
While the catch versus the Redskins was his first catch, Smith’s biggest catch came in Super Bowl XXXIII. The Broncos were leading 10-6 over the Atlanta Falcons who had just missed a field goal. Elway rolled to his right and let one fly to Smith, who had beaten safety Eugene Robinson. Smith caught the ball in stride and strolled in for an 80-yard touchdown. That made the score 17-6 and the game was over, as the Broncos went onto a blowout victory.
On Sunday, Smith takes his rightful place with other Bronco greats. He is the best receiver that the Broncos have ever had, and is still a fan favorite. Smith may or may not ever make it to the Professional Football Hall of Fame but for fourteen seasons, no one did it better and he did all with class.
Follow me on Twitter @Jemorrone7