The concept of professional sports hall of fames is simple enough. It is a place for the game’s greatest players to be remembered. It is a place where the stories of Babe Ruth, Jim Brown and Wilt Chamberlain will still be told 100 years from now.
However, greatest is one of those relative terms. No one is arguing against the greatness of Ruth, Brown and Chamberlain. But where is the cut-off point? Where does greatness end and very good begin?
This is where it gets muddy, because there are far fewer no-doubt hall of famers than there are athletes who blur the line between great and very good. Every year, these players on the fringe are debated by sportswriters and by fans. Each athlete’s resume is thoroughly examined and compared to other players who have or haven’t made the hall.
It is part of the fun, but the process also isn’t entirely fair to the athletes. Often during these debates it is forgotten that any player who even enters this discussion was tremendous in their sport. Even if they fall shy of hall of fame standards, they remain one of the best athletes to ever put on a uniform in that given sport.
Former Missouri Southern and Denver Broncos great Rod Smith is an athlete who will likely be a subject for this debate over the next several years.
Is Smith worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio?
Smith entered the NFL with the Broncos as a free agent in 1994 and went on to become one of the most successful undrafted players in history. He holds Broncos’ records for career receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389), touchdown catches (68) and overall touchdowns (71). He leads all undrafted players in NFL history in every major career receiving category.
He reached the 1,000-yard mark in eight of his 14 NFL seasons, including six straight from 1997-2002. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2000, 2001 and 2004. Twenty-one wide receivers from the modern era are in the Hall of Fame. Only two receivers enshrined – Jerry Rice and Art Monk – have more career receptions than Smith.
So Smith’s numbers are good enough to put him into the discussion, although they are becoming more and more difficult to put into context as the NFL continues to evolve into a passing league.
But numbers only put Smith in the discussion. Smith’s two strongest arguments for induction into the hall are that he played on winning football teams and that he is a great success story.
Smith was the best receiver on a team that won consecutive Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
“My big thing is winning,” Smith said. “I think I have one of the best winning percentages for a starting receiver to every play the game. But I don’t have a vote. I just played. I just worked hard, and that’s all I could do.”
The other argument in Smith’s favor is his background. He didn’t come from a highly-acclaimed Division I school, and he wasn’t a high draft pick who was given plenty of opportunities to display his ability. Smith came from Missouri Southern, wasn’t drafted and still went on to be one of the best receivers from his era. It is a great example of what hard work and dedication can do.
Remember, the reason for hall of fames is to keep great stories alive. Smith has a story that deserves to be told.