Rod Smith is back.
Those four words carry a meaning to this football team well beyond the simple declarative sentence that they form.
The unquestioned leader of the Broncos over the better part of the past decade, Rod (I just can’t call him “Smith”– I can call him Captain, but I can’t call him Smith) played the entire 2006 season with a left hip that badly needed some cleanup work.
In that time, he never missed a workout (in fact, the 37-year old wide receiver has never missed an offseason workout in his entire Broncos career), never complained, kept playing, and kept stoking the fire of enthusiasm for the team.
He had a left hip debridement during the offseason, and Wednesday returned to practice for the first time in 11 months.
No one ever wore the crown of leadership and spokesmanship better than Rod, and having him back is a big thing for this football team.
Some observers in the community thought he could never make it back, but those who knew Rod Smith knew he would never quit working, absolutely never stop focusing on that goal of not just returning to practice, but to the team, to the lineup, and to helping the Broncos win.
He holds the franchise records for catches (849), receiving yards (11,389), touchdown receptions (68) and total TDs (71).
To put those stats in even better perspective, consider that every one of those figures is the all-time pro football record for undrafted wide receivers.
In fact, the 849 catches rank 11th on the NFL’s all-time list, just two behind Irving Fryar for 10th place and 13 behind Jimmy Smith for ninth.
Considering the ultra-advanced state of scouting in pro football, it is almost unimaginable that a skilled position player of this quality could slip through the cracks, but he did.
Without being hackneyed about it, maybe the reason is that ultimately it is very hard to measure heart and passion.
Rod is the all-time leader in those qualities as well, and his return is a huge emotional lift for everyone associated with the franchise.
You might remember the movie “Six Degrees of Separation,” which among other things featured the concept that certain individuals can be tied to any number of other individuals and events.
I have often said that Rod’s career is like six degrees of separation for the Broncos.
A great player, for sure, statistically, but he also caught the 80-yard touchdown pass that really created scoreboard separation between the Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons in Denver’s Super Bowl XXXIII victory.
Rod is the primary spokesman for the Denver Broncos’ annual blood drive.
He is one of the team captains, as noted — in fact this year when the team voted on captains, he was not named because of his inactive and injured status, but the selected captains immediately went to Head Coach Mike Shanahan to let him know that they did not feel that Rod should be excluded — leadership even when excluded from the group is a powerful statement indeed.
He is the team’s player representative on NFLPA union issues, and a lot of it is mundane paper work, but Rod does it all.
I cannot say how many times I have personally watched Rod Smith work after practice with a young player, helping him, teaching him, even though many times during training camp it could have been said that the young player in question had very little chance of making the team.
Didn’t matter to Rod. Doesn’t matter to Rod.
Or how many times I have watched him assist a young player in getting a real estate agent to make a home purchase, or get some tax advice for a player whose home is not in Colorado.
Or how many times I have gone to him to say I neded something done PR-wise, and have Rod say he would do it, or say a quiet word to a young guy, to make rough waters smoother.
Welcome back, Rod.
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