ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Rod Smith began his days as a Bronco, he was just hoping to still have his job the next day. He held onto that job for 14 seasons, finally retiring as the franchise’s all-time leading receiver in 2007.
During halftime of Sunday’s game vs. Houston, Smith will be recognized as the 23rd member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
It’s an honor that Smith never envisioned for himself during his playing days.
“Honestly, not really,” he said. “I always looked up there, and you always see these names. One thing you knew, they had to do something right. They had to do something right, they had to do something special, they had to be good people, then it just happened that they played some football.”
Heralded for his work ethic, Smith began his career as an undrafted free agent on the team’s practice squad.
Once he got the foot in the door of the Broncos’ facility, he had no plans to leave until he was ready.
“The Broncos gave me a chance,” he said. “That’s all I cared about. The Broncos gave me a chance, and I wasn’t going to let the chance go by.”
Once given that opportunity to prove himself, he continued working until he’d earned playing time on special teams.
After proving himself on both return and coverage units, he carved out a role as a receiver.
Smith credits his hard work as the reason for his continued growth and success in the NFL.
“I put my head down and go to work, and I look up when they tell me to stop,” Smith said. “It took 14 years before I stopped, and then I looked up.”
Even as his role on the team increased and Denver won back-to-back Super Bowls, Smith never grew complacent.
His workout book was framed in the Broncos’ weight room after his retirement, commemorating his 100 percent attendance for voluntary offseason workouts.
“Six hundred-plus voluntary workouts,” Smith recalled. “It means you don’t have to come, but it my mind, I didn’t make it optional. It was mandatory. I don’t care how much money a person offered me during my career. … Even today, I tell people to quit making success optional. Quit thinking it’s optional. It’s not optional, it’s mandatory.”
As his career went on, Smith never lost his initial approach of taking it one day at a time. From his first day to his last, his short-term goal was simply to remain employed the next day.
“I had that pressure on me for 14 years that if I didn’t do it today, they were going to fire me,” Smith said. “I would sneak up to my locker every day, for 14 years, I would sneak up on my locker, and some days were a little bit more relaxing than other days, but I would sneak up on my locker and just pray that my name was still there and say, ‘Okay, I’ve got one more day. I’ve got one more day to keep my job.”
Although every NFL team overlooked him in the draft process, Smith knew that he could have success at the highest level of play.
“For me, I saw the end of my career when I started,” Smith said. “It was going to end the same way as it did in college. It was going to end the same way it did in high school. I knew I was going to give them everything I had, and it was always going to come out the way I want. You just need the opportunity. And I was given the opportunity, and I didn’t waste it. I didn’t squander a day.”