In 1994, Rod Smith signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Missouri Southern. The 6-0 200-pound Smith was considered a project but he came into the NFL with the right attitude to succeed. He worked hard every day going above and beyond what he had to do.
Rod Smith Arrives
September 17, 1995, Rod Smith entered the game with the score tied 31-31 with just seconds to go. Denver had the ball at the 43-yard line, and with a 60-yard field goal unlikely, they decided to go for one more play. As Elway broke the huddle he said, “Rod Smith,” indicating the football would be going his way. Elway got the ball and dropped back, Smith ran a go route and Elway fired the ball toward the left side of the end zone. Smith went up at the 2-yard line and made a sensational catch over two defenders, one of them being future hall of famer, Darrell Green. As he came down, he was in the end zone and had his first touchdown catch of his career, a game winner against the Washington Redskins. Rod Smith said. “It's a privilege to be able to catch passes from a true legend. John Elway is the best quarterback to ever play this game, period. Playing with him will be something I cherish the rest of life.” (2)
A year later against the Raiders, the Broncos were once again trailing with less than 5 minutes to play. Denver had the ball at the Raiders’ 49-yard line. This time Smith caught a 49-yard touchdown pass to give the Broncos the lead that they would not relinquish. It was Smith’s second career touchdown catch; both of them had been game winners.
With the improvement the coaching staff had seen in Smith, and due to his ability to block in the running game, Denver let Anthony Miller go after the 1996 season. Rod Smith would get his opportunity to shine, and he did not disappoint. Week 1 he caught 5 balls for 122 yards against the Chiefs. During the 3rd week of the season against the Rams, he pulled in 4 catches for 126 and 2 TDs. In week 15 against the Steelers, Smith grabbed four passes for 115 yards and 2 more TDs. When it was all said and done, Smith had compiled 70 catches for 1180 yards and 12 TDs with an impressive 16.9 yards per reception. He also blocked well, helping Terrell Davis to 1750 yards rushing.
“You knew the guy was a winner and was going to have success,” Shanahan said. “I don't think anybody thought he was going to have this type of success, but he's just a pleasure to be around. I can't think of a guy I've enjoyed more as a professional than Rod Smith.” (4)
Smith in the Running Game
Wide receivers come and go, and most of them understand how to run routes and make plays in the passing game. Rod Smith has done that with the best of them. However, only a select few also contribute consistently in the running game. As a part of the Denver Broncos’ offense, wide receivers are expected to block just as much as they are expected to make big catches.
During his career in Denver, Rod Smith has been an important part of Denver’s running game. He was making down field blocks when Terrell Davis ran for 2000 yards in 1998. Since then, he has helped clear the way for 1000-yard rushers Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Rueben Droughns, and Tatum Bell. One of the big reasons Denver consistently has one of the best running games in the business is Rod Smith and his blocks down field.
Despite that, Smith isn't often labeled nationally as an elite receiver or as a possibility to one day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Shanahan said Smith isn't underappreciated by opposing coaches.
“They talk about Rod Smith all the time,” Shanahan said. “Because he's so consistent in the running game and passing game, and how tough he is mentally and physically, and he's there week in and week out. Sometimes when people don't draw attention to themselves they don't get the notoriety.” (5)
Rod Smith Pro Bowls
After being snubbed for the Pro Bowl in his break out year in 1997, Rod Smith brought his game to another level in 2000. In a different offense, with Brian Griese as the quarterback, Denver threw far more slant routes and other quick hitting plays. When the season was through, Smith hauled in 100 catches for a franchise record 1602 yards and 8 TDs. His 1602 yards were the 9th most in NFL history (1). Smith was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
The following year, Smith caught a team record and league leading 113 passes for another 1343 yards. This was the second highest yardage total for a receiver in team history, trailing only his record mark the year before. At this point, Rod Smith of the Denver Broncos was establishing himself as one of the finest receivers in the league. Smith went to his 3rd Pro Bowl in 2005.
“I don't do stats,” Smith said. “Wins and losses. And Super Bowls. That's what counts.” (4) Rod Smith is so different than most wide receivers in the league. He puts winning ahead of his own statistics.
Smith's Franchise Records
During his time with the Denver Broncos, Rod Smith has set numerous franchise records. In 2001 against the Arizona Cardinals Smith hauled in 14 passes for 162 yards and 2 TDs. His 14 catches in a game are the all-time record. In the Super Bowl XXXIII against the Atlanta Falcons, Smith caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from John Elway, a Broncos Super Bowl record for the longest TD for the team. For his career, he has more catches, yards, and TDs than any other player in Denver Broncos’ history. His best yardage game, not a franchise record, came in 2004 against Atlanta, when he snared 9 balls for 208 yards and a TD.
Looking Back on Rod Smith
Rod Smith finished his career with 849 catches for 11389 yards and 68 touchdown catches, carried the football 44 times for another 348 yards and 1 touchdown. Smith also contributed as a punt returner with 53 returns for 647 yards for a 12.2 yard average and scored a touchdown on a 65 yard return.
“He's a coach's dream, the way he prepares, the way he works, the way he handles himself,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “You can't really ask anything more. He does everything you can possibly ask a player to do and then some. I've been around a few players in the National Football League, and I don't know if I could put anyone up there with Rod Smith.” (3)
“Nobody's meant more to the leadership of this organization other than John (Elway) and this guy,” Kubiak said. “He's an amazing player and an amazing person. He makes it fun to come to work, for me.”
“People don't understand how valuable of a player he's been to this organization, what a leader he's been, how he handles himself day in and day out,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “He's a coach's dream.” (5)
Rod Smith Hall of Fame?
Rod Smith was a great wide receiver and in my opinion deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He quietly put up great numbers and won two Super Bowls while doing so. Thanks Rod for the memories.
By A. Goodin, 20Yardline.com
Rod Smith Biography Sources:(1) DenverBroncos.com
(2) CATCHING ON AFTER A SLOW START, BRONCOS' ROD SMITH HAS EMERGED AS ONE OF NFL'S ELITE RECEIVERS (1998, January 3) Rocky Mountain News
(3) Rod Smith: A quality catch (2004, November 12) Dallas Morning News
(4) 10,000 yards That's the milestone Rod Smith will hit if he picks up 55 yards tonight against the Chiefs. But does he care? Hardly. (2005, September 26) The Gazette
(5) Rod Smith defying age with record resurgence (2004, November 7) The Gazette