Rod Smith formally announced his retirement from professional football today, and the Denver Broncos family is a little weaker because of it.
My career has spanned 34 years in professional sports, three in baseball and 31 with the Broncos, and there have been very few players, maybe none, who have had the influence on the team and on individuals that he had.
We have had and will continue to have our share of great players, guys with ability far and away beyond that of most athletes.
But it is never a surprise when a great player plays great.
However, when a player comes out of nowhere, as far as being highly regarded, or regarded at all is concerned, and then goes on to the kind of career which ultimately has the team owner calling him “the second greatest Bronco ever, behind John Elway,” as Pat Bowlen did at Rod’s press conference, that player has traveled a long ways indeed.
Rod Smith came to the Broncos as unheralded as possible out of tiny Missouri Southern, undrafted and unwanted by any other team in pro football.
Eventually, Mike Shanhan was so impressed by the practice field work ethic of Smith and fellow receiver Ed McCaffrey that he cut two one-time number one draft chocies, Anthony Miller and Mike Pritchard, to go with Smith and McCaffrey.
What seemed daft to some observers resulted in the greatest seasons the Broncos and their fans ever had, back to back Super Bowl wins and a Cinderella story to match (and maybe surpass) those created by Hollywood screen writers.
So now Smith walks away, done with playing but rebooking his busy schedule to include far more time with his children.
He gave plenty to his Bronco family, most of all passion and guidance and leadership. He will always be here in spirit, and knowing Rod, will make plenty of visits to he headquarters and stadium as well.
Nobody ever had a better mentor.
Beyond that, Rod Smith closed things out with more catches (849) than 18 of the 19 receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He had more receiving yards (11,389) than 13 of the 19 wide receivers in the Hall of Fame.
He played in 118 regular season wins–it’s all about winning, right?–more than five of the six wide receivers in the Hall of Fame who began their career since 1970.
And he was an integral part of two world championships.
His statistics stand alone, but those of us who worked with him know it was never about the stats, it was always about the man.
He led the way for veterans, rookies, and non players. He showed everybody what a work ethic really is, and what it truly is to be a champion.
I will miss you, Captain.