The Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —
Rod Smith hangs on to a grudge almost as well as a pass.
Even 18 years later, the former Denver Broncos wide receiver still remains irate over not being drafted.
The Broncos took a chance on the unheralded wideout from Missouri Southern and he blossomed into the team’s all-time leader in virtually every receiving category.
Always a fan favorite, Smith will hear the roar of the crowd again Sunday when he’s inducted into the Ring of Fame at halftime against the Houston Texans.
Throughout his career, Smith used his resentment over not being picked to give him an edge and an attitude. He hardly ever took a day off — even in the offseason — and always believed that each week just might be his last in the league.
“I would sneak up on my locker and just pray that my name was still there and say, ‘OK, I’ve got one more day,”’ Smith said Thursday. “I would think that if we lose that day, they’re looking to move me around. That’s the way I believe. That’s what kept me with my head down working.
“They (other players) worry about contract-to-contract or year-to-year or game-to-game. No, mine was second-to-second. It worked for me.”
Smith may have been overlooked coming out of college, but he wasn’t once he stepped onto the field. He always tangled with the opposition’s top cover guy. That started early, too. He spent his first season on the practice squad in 1994 and then was thrown into the action.
His first catch was on Sept. 17, 1995, when he hauled in a 43-yard pass from John Elway as time expired to lift the Broncos to a 38-31 victory over Washington.
“I don’t know too many people whose first catch has probably been that dramatic,” said Smith, who finished his career as the team leader in receptions (849), yards receiving (11,389) and TD catches (68).
Even more than his receptions, Smith set a standard that even the Broncos receivers of today are striving to emulate. Around the complex, his work ethic will always be revered.
“I didn’t squander a day,” Smith said. “That’s the mentality you have to have at the beginning. I had that mentality when I was broke. I had that mentality when I was hungry. I had that mentality in college.
“If you set some standards early on in your life and you live by those standards because you believe in them, the rest of the stuff just falls into place.”
Smith possibly could’ve squeezed in a few more productive seasons, but he couldn’t stay healthy. His last season was 2006 as an aching hip finally forced him to the sideline.
To this day, the injury still bothers Smith, 42.
Smith left behind quite a legacy, setting a club record with 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.
Not only that but he helped Denver to seven postseason appearances, three AFC West crowns and, of course, two Super Bowl titles.
A Hall of Fame worthy career?
“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.”
He has Champ Bailey’s vote.
“Everything about this guy screams Hall of Fame,” Bailey said. “One day, I’ll look to see him in there.”
Or maybe even back on the field.
Although Smith has no desire to catch any more passes — not even from Peyton Manning, though enticing — he wouldn’t mind being a consultant or a mentor for the Broncos.
“Being able to help some guys ... I can definitely do that,” Smith said.
He certainly knows what it takes, even if NFL scouts missed on him.
“I’m still mad about that, by the way,” Smith said. “Some people weren’t too smart, because they measured all this other stuff and they didn’t measure a person’s heart. They don’t have a machine for that. The Broncos gave me a chance. That’s all I care about.”