The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 15, 2012

Hall of Fame eludes Rod Smith for now

By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer

— Plenty of honors have been bestowed on Rod Smith.

The former Missouri Southern wide receiver is the only Lions’ football player to have his number retired. Smith also is in the university’s hall of fame, the NCAA Division II Football Hall of Fame, the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and state hall of fames in Arkansas, Colorado and Missouri.

The honors continued Saturday as Smith, who graduated with three degrees from Missouri Southern, was the keynote speaker for the university’s winter commencement ceremonies at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

However, there remains one honor that has eluded Smith so far — induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Smith’s resume for enshrinement into Canton, Ohio is pretty impressive.

He 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.

Coming into the league as an undrafted player, Smith said the Hall of Fame was never his focus.

“That was never my dream,” he said. “My dream was playing. My dream was going out there and working. If that happens, that’s just a combination of all the things you wanted. It’s a bunch of small things added together that equals one giant deal.”

Smith 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.

The Texarkana, Ark., native has been eligible for the hall for two years now but has fallen short both times.

Smith was among 127 modern era candidates for the Class of 2013, but he didn’t make the list of 27 semifinalists announced on Nov. 30.

Wide receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed are among the semifinalists. They join Smith in a group of elite receivers who are waiting for their names to be called.

For years, it seems there has been a hesitancy to induct receivers. Rice and Steve Largent are the only receivers who started their careers after the AFL-NFL merger to be inducted on the first ballot. Monk retired with most of the major receiving records but was denied seven times.

Brown, Carter and Reed have each been denied multiple times, creating a logjam for receivers. Smith may need one or two of those wideouts to get in before he can reach the next level.

“There’s so many,” Smith said. “There are so many guys who have done some amazing things. It’s hard to differentiate from one era to the next era. Some of those guys could have played in any era. I feel like I’m one of those guys.”

One criteria that could help Smith separate himself from the pack is Super Bowl victories. Smith was a leader on Denver Broncos teams that won 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 ever 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 finalists for the Class of 2013 will be narrowed to 17 in January, and the inductees will be announced on Feb. 2.

Smith will be eligible again for 2014.