How bad was Rod Smith’s hip last year?
Consider this exchange that Smith recounted between himself and Dr. Marc Philippon, the surgeon at Vail’s Steadman-Hawkins Clinic who performed hip surgery on longtime Bronco in late February.
“There’s no way you played,” Smith recalled Philippon saying.
“I played every game,” the wideout replied.
“Well, I don’t see how.”
“You know what? I feel I’m tougher than most people.”
That was what kept him on the field from when problems in the joint dawned in 2004 through the close of the 2006 season. Smith didn’t miss a game, and hasn’t sat out a contest due to injury since 2001. (The Broncos deactivated him and several other starters for the regular-season finale at Green Bay in 2003, by which time the team’s playoff position had been locked.)
“I fought through it for a while, but it just gets to the point where it’s ridiculous to do that stuff to your body. It got evaluated, and actually, it was torn. There’s nothing I can do about it but get it fixed.”
What Smith underwent was officially dubbed an arthroscopic debridement surgery on his left hip, but it proved to be a more extensive procedure than was initially expected.
“It was more than just a tear,” Smith said. “There was cartilage damage. There was bone on bone in parts. Bone spurs. Chips. Fragments.”
Smith refused to specifically target the aching hip as an excuse for a 2006 season that saw him finish with his lowest reception and yardage total since becoming a full-time starter in 1997. However, he acknowledged its impact on his play.
“My explosion was gone — which you need in this business, especially as you get older.”
“It’s no excuse for certain situations I had myself in, certain plays that I needed to make, because if I’m out there, my thing is to make plays, but at the same time, I realized how much it limited me after I went back and looked at it and I said, ‘I can’t do that to myself again,’ because it’s putting way too much strain on my body to try to make the routine plays that I was used to making; it made things a lot harder, so you’ve just got to be a lot smarter.”
Smith ditched his crutches a week and a half ago, and he’s been a regular on the elliptical machines in the strength and conditioning complex. He also swims daily — “I’m like Aquaman, trust me,” he proclaims — which leaves his ongoing, unofficial franchise record of consecutive workouts intact.
He acknowledged that the rehab work was the hardest of his career.
“But I actually like it because I don’t have to go over there and deal with (strength and conditioning coach Rich) Tuten every day,” he said. “I have 100 percent attendance. I’m here every day. ”
The stated target for Smith’s return is the beginning of training camp, but Smith isn’t thinking in terms of an exact date.
“Some people heal faster than others. I think I’m a fast healer. When I had my evaluation with the doctor, he said, ‘You’re ahead of schedule.’ … But at the same time, whose schedule?”
“I’m just going day by day,” Smith added. “I can’t even jog right now, but you know what? Next week, I might be (able to). The body is weird, man. Everybody’s body is different so you can’t put together a schedule and say, ‘You’re ready by this day.’ I wish we would know that.”
Smith also said that he won’t come back to the field until he was healthy.
“If I’m 80 percent, I’m not going out there,” Smith said. “If I say, ‘Coach, I don’t think it’s time for me to go out there,’ no matter what a doctor says, he’ll say, ‘You know your body better than anybody else, so you just let me know when you can go back out there and compete at the level you know you can compete at.’
“That’s the good thing about it. It’s on me.”