On September 17th, 1995, the Denver Broncos enjoyed another typical Sunday afternoon at Mile High Stadium. Typical, at least, by their standards when John Elway was the quarterback.
A back and forth game full of big swings came to a 31-31 tie with time winding down in the 4th quarter. In classic Elway fashion, the Broncos waited until the very end to take the lead for good. They found themselves at the Washington Redskins‘ 43 yard line with time remaining for only a single play. First year Coach Mike Shanahan decided to forgo the long field goal try and instead let Elway heave it to the end zone. As the clock hit triple zeroes, the Elway bomb found its way down the left sideline and into the arms of a leaping Rod Smith who landed in the end zone for the winning score. It was an epic finish and one that all Broncos fans will always remember.
I was lucky enough to be in the stands that day, and I can clearly recall several fans asking who had caught the touchdown after the celebration calmed down. Many people simply didn’t recognize the guy who caught the ball, and who could blame them? That touchdown just happened to be the first pass Rod Smith had ever caught in an NFL game.
It may have been the first time that some Broncos fans took notice of Rod Smith, but he made sure it wouldn’t be the last. He went on to have a long and illustrious career with Denver that included 849 catches, 11,389 yards, 70 total touchdowns, and 2 Super Bowl championships. To top it all off, Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen announced last week that Rod Smith has been elected to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. He will be the 24th member of that prestigious group and he will be inducted during halftime of the game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, September 23rd.
Smith was an undrafted rookie in 1994 out of Missouri Southern. He spent his first season on the Broncos practice squad before his hard work earned him a spot in the lineup during the 1995 campaign. That also happened to be the first season on the sidelines for Head Coach Mike Shanahan, and the timing couldn’t have worked out any better. Smith would become an integral piece of the Shanahan offensive machine and he thrived in that system for his entire 12 year career.
Rod Smith holds almost every single receiving record in franchise history and he’s in the top 25 all-time in receptions and receiving yards. His legacy, however, is more defined by his hard work, attitude, and leadership skills. Smith never took anything for granted after going undrafted and he became the ultimate team-first player in an era that was full of diva wide receivers. He was a perfect fit at the wide receiver position for a Denver offense that included weapons such as Terrell Davis, John Elway, and Shannon Sharpe. Together, that impressive group of talented players would lead the Broncos organization to heights previously unknown.
There are very few players out there like Rod Smith and I am so proud that he played for the Denver Broncos. He is very deserving of the honor and I don’t believe it could be bestowed upon a better person. He will always be remembered as a Broncos legend, and now he takes his rightful place in the Ring of Fame.
Congratulations Rod! Go Broncos!
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