Earlier this morning, Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen called former wide receiver Rod Smith and notified him that he had been voted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
That call started a chain of phone calls and text messages that would flood the franchise’s all-time leading receiver’s phone.
“It’s a huge deal,” Smith said of the honor on a conference call. “I got a chance to speak to Mr. Bowlen today and just really thanked him for allowing me and my family to be a part of his family. He really allowed me a chance to work for the best organization in all of pro sports.”
Smith thanked every player he ever played with, along with a slew of former coaches who he credited with helping him achieve success in the NFL.
Throughout the day, he estimated that he received 50 text messages from those people congratulating him
on the news.
“A lot of people are excited, and I’m excited as well,” he said. “It’s a testament to where you came from. There are a lot of people that shared that honor with me, not only the people I grew up with from my immediate family, but every guy I ever played high school football with or through college and on and on and on. It’s a huge deal.”
It an honor that Smith says means even more to him because of all the other people that share in it as well.
“I’ve always dreamed of that and wanted to have my name next to those guys up there who meant a lot to not just that organization but to the community as well,” Smith said. “It’s one of those things where the whole entire community gets a reward. They just pick one person to accept it. I’m just glad that I’m the person that they picked.”
One coach that Smith singled out as a major influencer on his career was his wide receiver coach, Mike Heimerdinger.
“Oh man, (he was) everything,” Smith said. “If it wasn’t for Mike Heimerdinger, I can promise you we wouldn’t be on the phone right now because he saw more in me than I saw in me at the time. Sometimes that is all you need, for somebody to believe in you more than you even believe in yourself. What I did was borrow his belief in me. He told me I had the talent and had the skills. He spoke those things every single day and then I went out there and I had to go to work for them. … Mike, I’m telling you – to the day I die, he always is going to be a huge part of my family.”
Smith, who rose from an undrafted free agent to the all-time leading receiver in Broncos history, was known for his unyielding work ethic. He said that because of the way his career began as an undrafted free agent out of a Division-II school, he always had the mindset that he’d have to outwork other players for his spot on the roster.
“I embraced the path and I didn’t worry about the path,” Smith said. “I knew where I wanted to go and I knew I was going to outwork everyone else. When they were gone, I was still working. When they were asleep, I was still working. I tell people that all the time, work works. I wanted to be the best teammate I could be. I knew if I was better, it made our team better.
“You have to clock in and sometimes you don’t clock out,” he continued. “In the NFL, I never clocked out. Once I got in, I didn’t clock out. The day I clocked out was the day I retired. … You want to wake up when you want to wake up. Don’t let them wake you up. That was just kind of my approach.”
Below are a few other quick hits from Rod Smith’s conference call:
On his first career catch, which went for a game-winning touchdown
“Actually, I was on special teams and I (stunk) that day. I get a chance at the end of the game to make a play – it was my first ever catch and my thing was just giving myself a chance. James Washington, still to this day, I talk to James Washington – it’s been a couple years now – but he said, ‘Man, if it wasn’t for me, your career would have sucked.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, I knocked out all the other receivers and you were the only one left.’ That’s actually true – he had knocked out two of our receivers and we only had four, so they had no choice but to play me.”
On whether he has a favorite moment of his career
“Not really – there are so many of them, you really can’t pinpoint any one thing. I have moments of other guys. I still remember (former fullback) Kyle (Johnson) – I still remember him catching his first pass. I remember him having his first touchdown and he spiked the ball and I went and got it from him. Stuff like that I remember that most people don’t remember. It didn’t even dawn on him – I said, ‘Kyle, I remember my first catch. My first catch was a game-winning touchdown. This is your first touchdown, you want to keep this ball. No matter how long you play in this business, nobody can ever take it away. I remember a lot of stuff like that – little intangible stuff that doesn’t probably make Sportscenter-type deals, but just seeing some of my teammates and persevere through when they were hurt – I remember Gary Zimmerman playing with a separated shoulder gave up no sacks. I said, ‘Man, I have to step my game out. This dude is out there with a separated shoulder going against some of the best D-linemen in the league and shutting them down. When you get hearts of champions like that around you all the time, I remember all those moments because they’ve made me say, ‘Man, you have to get better.’ So, I kept working because of the atmosphere of the environment I was around.
On whether he thinks he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
“Well what are they basing the Hall of Fame on? What do you base it on? Do you base it on wins? I have some of those. Do you base in on catches? I have a lot of those. Touchdowns, and the unsung stuff to me is the blocking that Eddie (McCaffrey) and myself and the other guys I played with – you look at the running backs in my era and how many yards they rushed for, I take that personally because it was about the team to me. Honestly, there are a ton of guys that my numbers are way better than theirs, so why not be considered for it? When I went into the business I wasn’t looking at that, but once I got in the business and I saw that those things were possible – I went to John Elway’s induction into the hall of fame and I said it’s possible. It’s hard to see it until you see somebody else kind of go through it. When I saw John get inducted, I was very emotional that day, because I knew a piece of me went. But, I said, ‘Why not be right beside him? Why not have a bust right beside him?’ One thing I can say is this: I don’t get to vote, and if I did, I would vote for me because I gave them everything I had. That’s all I can do. I tried to be the best teammate I could. I tried to represent the game, the NFL shield as best as I could. Those who vote will hopefully see it the same way. That’s all I can do.”
On how he was able to be so successful
“I was hungry. I stayed hungry – I’m still hungry now. There is something about the human spirit – you just have to be hungry 24/7. … And thanks to Mike Shanahan, Mike Heimerdinger, Gary Kubiak, Brian Pariani, Bobby Turner, ‘Rico’ (Rick Dennison) and all the offensive coaches and the defensive coaches – Coach (Bob) Slowik and a lot of the coaches, Ed Donatell, just all the coaches I ever played with – they all had a hand in me being a better person and made me a better athlete on the field for the Denver Broncos.”
On topping the Shannon Sharpe Ring of Fame entrance when he skydived into the stadium
“I’m not going to do that stupid stuff, I’m going to tell you that right now. I don’t know. I don’t know what the options are. I can tell you right now that jumping out of something more than three or four feet in the air isn’t it. I’m not coming in like that, so don’t anybody put that together, don’t entertain it, it’s not going to happen.”