DENVER - DECEMBER 24: Rod Smith #80 of the Denver Broncos jogs on the field during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, as the Broncos defeated the Bengals 24-23 on December 24, 2006 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
That day in 1995, I celebrated a last-second victory on what essentially was a Hail Mary against the Washington Redskins. The quarterback was superstar John Elway. The receiver was some guy named Rod Smith.
That was everyone's introduction to Smith. And little did we know at the time, but the undrafted receiver a year earlier from Missouri Southern, a Division II school, would go on to be the best receiver in Broncos history.
On Sunday, Smith will be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame during halftime of the game against the Houston Texans. He is the 23rd player in franchise history to receive the honor. Few are more deserving.
Smith spent 14 seasons in the NFL, all with the Broncos, and certainly left his mark. His 849 catches and 11,389 receiving yards are the most in league history for an undrafted player. He caught 68 touchdown passes, had 31 100-yard receiving games and caught a pass in 124 consecutive games. He led the league with 113 receptions in 2001 when he was named to one of his three Pro Bowls.
Those numbers are best in the history of the Broncos. And during his time in the NFL, few receivers were better.
Smith talked Friday with the media about his time in the league. He talked about working his butt off to earn a spot with the Broncos. He talked about working hard his entire career to keep that spot. He talked about the two Super Bowl championships he won with Denver. (His 80-yard TD catch in Super Bowl XXXIII is one the franchise's signature moments). He talked about how humble it was to be part of the Broncos Ring of Fame. And he even talked Hall of Fame.
"I never thought about it until I watched John Elway get inducted and then I thought to myself, 'Why not me?' " Smith said. "I worked just as hard and I put in just as much time and I put up the numbers."
Smith indeed has the numbers worthy of Canton. They fall somewhere between Michael Irvin (750 receptions, 11,904 yards, 65 TDs) and Art Monk (940 receptions, 12,721 yards, 68TDs). And his numbers are better than some in the Hall of Fame. John Stallworth, for instance, played 14 seasons and finished with 537 catches for 8,723 yards and 68 TDs.
The problem is there hasn't been much consistency with the Hall of Fame when it comes to receivers. They seem undervalued. There are still plenty waiting to get in. Tim Brown, Cris Cater and Andre Reed create a log jam at the top.
Regardless, Smith is a Hall of Famer in my book. And it's about more than just what he did on the field. He never was in trouble like so many other players. He was a consummate professional on and off the field.
Broncos fans recognize what Smith meant to the franchise. And the franchise will recognize that Sunday.
In Rod We Will Always Trust.
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