Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has announced that legendary WR Rod Smith will become the next member of the team's Ring of Fame. Said Mr. B in a statement:
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. 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. Emerging from an undrafted player to one of the best to ever play his position, Rod has truly earned his place among the greatest Broncos of all time.
I am thankful for everything Rod contributed to this franchise during his time with the Broncos, and I congratulate him on his well-deserved election to the Ring of Fame.
Smith, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Southern State in 1994, was a Bronco for 12 seasons, setting regular and postseason franchise records for receptions, receiving yards, and TD catches. His numbers also rank as the best in league history for an undrafted receiver.
After a year on Denver's practice squad, Smith announced his presence to Broncos fans everywhere by making a leaping catch of a Hail Mary pass from John Elway for a 43-yard game-winning touchdown as time expired in a 31-31 game against the visiting Redskins (2:11 of the following clip).
Rod's next most famous catch, an 80-yard catch and run, helped open a two-touchdown lead on the Falcons in SB 33, Elway's final NFL game. Smith hauled in the pass (2:34 of the same clip) after blowing past Falcons safety Eugene Robinson, who had been arrested the night prior for propositioning an undercover cop, just hours after he had received an award extolling his high moral character. Yes, the same Robinson who had announced to his Packers teammates a year before in SB 32 that the Broncos were "not better than us; they're not even good!"
But back to Smith - the tireless worker played in 183 regular season games (158 starts) for Denver, amassing 849 catches for 11,389 yards and 68 scores. He also added one rushing touchdown, one score via punt return (a 65-yarder while standing in for an injured Deltha O'Neal), and another on a fumble recovery.
A QB in high school, Smith also completed two passes for 86 yards during his career and was Denver's emergency quarterback during coach Mike Shanahan's years of carrying just two full-time passers on the roster.
Rod's postseason numbers include 49 catches for 860 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games.
Along with Bowlen, Elway released a statement congratulating his old teammate:
You couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Rod Smith. His work ethic, the way he competed and the positive influence he had on others were all qualities that made him one of the best. What a great Bronco who is so deserving of being honored as a member of the Ring of Fame.
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. 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.Rod brought his lunch pail to work each day, took nothing for granted and made himself into an elite player. 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.
I’m thrilled Rod has been elected to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, and I look forward to celebrating his induction this season.
Smith's Ring of Fame induction will appropriately take place at halftime of the Week 3 (Sep 23) game against the Texans, who are coached by former Denver QB and coach Gary Kubiak. Kubes coordinated Denver's offense for the first 11 years of Smith's career before taking the head job in Houston.
Smith spoke about his election via conference call:
It’s a huge deal. I got a chance to speak to Mr. Bowlen today and just really thanked him for allowing me and my family to be a part of his family. He really allowed me a chance to work for the best organization in all of pro sports.
A lot of people are excited, and I’m excited as well. It’s a testament to where you came from. There are a lot of people that shared that honor with me, not only the people I grew up with from my immediate family, but every guy I ever played high school football with or through college and on and on and on. It’s a huge deal.I’ve always dreamed of that and wanted to have my name next to those guys up there who meant a lot to not just that organization but to the community as well. It’s one of those things where the whole entire community gets a reward. They just pick one person to accept it. I’m just glad that I’m the person that they picked.
Oh man, (Mike Heimerdinger was) everything. If it wasn’t for Mike Heimerdinger, I can promise you we wouldn’t be on the phone right now because he saw more in me than I saw in me at the time. Sometimes that is all you need, for somebody to believe in you more than you even believe in yourself. What I did was borrow his belief in me. He told me I had the talent and had the skills. He spoke those things every single day and then I went out there and I had to go to work for them. … Mike, I’m telling you – to the day I die, he always is going to be a huge part of my family.I embraced the path and I didn’t worry about the path. 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. I tell people that all the time, work works. I wanted to be the best teammate I could be. I knew if I was better, it made our team better.
You have to clock in and sometimes you don’t clock out. In the NFL, I never clocked out. Once I got in, I didn’t clock out. The day I clocked out was the day I retired. … You want to wake up when you want to wake up. Don’t let them wake you up. That was just kind of my approach.
Gary Kubiak had plenty to say about his former charge:
I’m not surprised. Of all my time in Denver, obviously we had some great players through those championship years, but no greater example of what it is to be a pro and be a great leader and a great Bronco than Rod Smith, in the community and on the field.
He was a free agent who made his way up through football the hard way and then became a great player. I still recall that big play he made in the Super Bowl against Atlanta, but he made many of those. For me as a coach, he was always the guy in the meeting room that held things together. I can’t tell you how many times I would get upset or something and he would walk over to me and tap on the shoulder and say, ‘I got him,’ or, ‘I got it,’ like, ‘I’ll go take care of that; you don’t worry about it.’ Great man, great person, great football player. Very happy for him, and I guess that’ll be exciting to see when we go down there.Rod was an unselfish player. Did a lot of dirty work for our football team, kind of like Kevin Walter does for the Houston Texans, as a blocker and those types of things. Here’s a guy who went from a free agent to a leader of a World Championship football team, and you can’t say much more than that.
He’s a prototype football player. That’s what you’re looking for. A lot of guys have talent. There are guys that can run 4.4 and there’s guys that can run 4.6 and play like they’re 4.4, and that’s what Rod was. He played faster – he played better – than everything said he was supposed to play. He was very smart, had it all under control and did it all in one place for many years. That doesn’t happen very often nowadays, so hats off to him.
- Official site video tribute and slideshow, plus the story on his retirement in 2008
- PFR profile
- Ring of Fame list
- Rod on Facebook and Twitter
- Wikipedia profile
- Andrew Mason focuses on Smith's peerless work ethic and leadership
- Jeff Legwold notes the close relationship between Smith and Dinger, and Mike's son Brian
Broncos Ring of Fame Inductees
- 1984: Floyd "The Franchise" Little, Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, Lionel Taylor, Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin
- 1985: Gerald Phipps
- 1986: Frank Tripucka, Charley Johnson, Paul Smith
- 1987: Billy Thompson
- 1988: Craig Morton, Haven Moses, Jim Turner
- 1989: Randy Gradishar
- 1992: Tom Jackson (the patron saint of IAOFM)
- 1993: Louis Wright
- 1999: John Elway
- 2001: Karl "Snow Goose" Mecklenburg, Dennis Smith
- 2003: Gary Zimmerman
- 2005: Steve "The Smiling Assassin" Atwater
- 2007: Terrell Davis
- 2009: Shannon Sharpe
- 2012: Rod Smith
Updated 7:49 pm ET