It’s basically the same thing that Rod Smith has done for many years.

Returning to Joplin to participate in the Missouri Southern SouthernFest and the Rod Smith golf tournament, the former Lions’ All-American wide receiver renewed acquaintances with many fans, friends and teammates and told tales that likely get taller every year.

But this year was different for Smith.

He also took time to clean out the apartment of his daughter Vanessa, who died on June 7 of sickle cell anemia. She was just 31 years old.

“Coming back here brings up those memories, and it’s tough,” Smith said. “But this is still home, one of my homes anyway.”

Vanessa, a Joplin High School graduate, had moved back to Joplin on July 1, 2020.

“She’s had sickle cell her whole life, and she’s been a fighter,” Smith said. “I told her all the time and believe it to this day: She’s the strongest person I know. To deal with what she dealt with and still found a way to go to work, found a way to raise her two boys, found a way to take care of herself and her household, it was absolutely amazing.

“Her heart, her lungs, she had been fighting this her whole life. Most people would have been done a long time ago. It’s hard because you have two young boys whose mom is not here. I promised her I’m going to raise them, and I’m going to make sure they do the things (she) wanted them to do.”


After his All-American career at Missouri Southern, Smith became the most productive free agent signee in National Football League history.

He signed with the Denver Broncos in 1994, spent one season on the practice squad and then played 14 seasons before a hip injury forced him to retire. He’s the most productive receiver in Broncos history — 849 catches for 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns — and he joined the Broncos’ Ring of Fame on Sept. 23, 2012.

With the NCAA allowing Name, Image and Likeness starting this year, college athletes can receive financial rewards for endorsements or individual work.

Smith was at Missouri Southern from 1988-93 — a knee injury in 1992 kept him on campus for the Lions’ MIAA championship season in 1993. Always a popular player with the fans, Smith likely could have made very good money during his college days.

For example, an internet company might have advertised that its connection was as strong as Matt Cook to Rod Smith.

“Yes, but 30 years ago I don’t think there was any internet,” Smith said with a laugh. “I would have asked for some stock instead of money.

“I think some of the same companies that represent Southern today,” he said. “Some of the banks, Hiland Dairy, Leggett & Platt ... these companies have always donated to Missouri Southern and kept it afloat as a school to have a chance to compete. It would have been different.

“In some regards, it’s really going to make college football probably not as fun because it becomes way more of a business for players versus doing it because you love it. I believe the NCAA for so long did it wrong. I remember when I was in college, I was broke as hell because I had a scholarship, but they wouldn’t let me work. Even if I had time to work, they wouldn’t let me go make money to pay my bills or feed myself or help out my mom. To me, that’s too much control for one organization, especially with everybody not on scholarship.”

It could open the door for jealousy among players.

“If the offensive lineman isn’t getting anything and the quarterback is getting $100,000 ... this guy is hungry every week and has to block for someone he sees in commercials every day,” Smith said. “There are going to be some tweaks along the way, and they have to. ... If you are a top-tiered athlete and are able to get a little bit of money — some cases a lot of money — how does that change you as an individual. Does it put more pressure on kids? I don’t know if they are mature enough to handle the responsibility of the financial side, the endorsement side and school. and they have to perform on the field.

“It’s going to be tough. To me, every athlete, men and women, who plays a college sport should get some kind of stipend because we put in more hours than we would if we had a job.”


As the Broncos begin camp next week, one question mark is starting quarterback.

“I have no idea,” Smith said. “I heard there is some very good competition. I’ve heard (Drew) Lock was having a real good camp, and (Teddy) Bridgewater has a different style. It’s something that was definitely needed. We never had a true quarterback competition. Of course, when you have Peyton Manning, Peyton Manning is the starter and everybody else is there to do what he says.

“But now with the new GM, I got a chance to talk to George (Paton), and he is really excited about Teddy Bridgewater coming in to push for the starting job. He didn’t bring him here to be a backup, and I think that makes all of them play better.”

Aaron Rodgers’ name was heard earlier this summer as a possible Broncos QB as his problems with the Packers continue.

“If he comes here, he’s going to start automatically,” Smith said, going out on the proverbial limb. “My thing is what makes that tough, a week before camp, do you keep the same offense. If you have to switch the offense, that handicaps a lot of other guys to support one guy.

“Is he the guy you want? Absolutely, but you wanted him two months ago.”

Follow Sports Editor Jim Henry on Twitter at @Jim_Henry53.

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