ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Rod Smith has been in this situation before.
In his 14-year career with the Broncos, he went to three AFC Championship Games. He won two en route to two Super Bowl titles.
"I kind of stole this from Peyton (Manning), but I believe in it 100 percent – he said: ‘Guys can’t step it up right now, because then that means you’ve been slacking in the past,’" Smith said. "You can’t step it up right now, because you should have been playing on all cylinders all year."
Now retired, Smith is still in Denver and has maintained a steady presence at Broncos practices and games.
"I was in this locker room at one point," he said. "I am outside of it now, with one foot still kind of in, and I’m just excited for those guys to get themselves to this position – just really knowing how precious it is – because everybody doesn’t get to this point."
He said that watching the Broncos' receivers this season, especially, has been rewarding. First, he noted, they block for the run game.
"That, to me, is the sign of a team," Smith said.
Second, they catch so many passes that it's like "they're playing with five footballs, sometimes."
But most importantly, they play for one another.
"If you look at them, they play together and they root for each other," Smith said. "If one catches a big ball, the first one over there is the other receiver."
"It’s a good feeling to know that those guys are fighting for each other every single play.”
Smith has even watched some games on the sideline, which has been a welcome sight for Head Coach John Fox and his players.
"It's great," Fox said. "We have those two Super Bowl trophies sitting in front of our locker (room) as our guys come out to practice every day. To have guys that were a part of that in the community like Rod, still live here in Denver, I think it's huge."
On Sunday, Smith will serve as an honorary captain for the AFC Championship Game.
Still the franchise's records for postseason receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 49, 860 and six, respectively, Smith knows a thing or two about what it takes to win in the playoffs.
That made last year's loss all the harder to watch -- and this year's trip to one game away from the Super Bowl all the more exciting.
“I just feel so good for those guys to get back to this moment," Smith said. "Last year was hard. It was hard for me. Honestly, as a player and being in that situation, I left the stadium, my stomach hurt bad—like somebody just took about 15 running starts and just punched me in the gut. I remember texting, actually on Twitter, Demaryius (Thomas), I said, ‘Man, take about a week or two off and then get back to work.’ That’s the only way you can get over it. You’ve got to get yourself back there. Some of the guys weren’t here, so the good thing is they don’t feel that pain, but the ones who did, I can promise you they’re out there right now dialed-in, laser-focused, so the new guys will come and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be on my game because I don’t want to feel what they felt.’”
And there was never any doubt how Smith thinks the game will go this time around.
“The Broncos win," he said. "Honestly, it’s their time. It’s time for this organization to get back on top, and you have to get through this challenge. This is probably one of the toughest challenges in the last 10 years, honestly. I believe they have the personnel in this building—not just on the field—but in this building, they have the right personnel to go and get it done. I expect it to be big.”