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Smith Steps Away

Posted Jul 24, 2008

Career Bronco Rod Smith announced his retirement on Thursday, closing out a 13-year run that saw him break more than half a dozen franchise records.

BroncosTV takes a look at Rod Smith's record-breaking career.
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- "I'm done. Thank you very much."

With those words, standing at a podium wearing a suit and two Super Bowl rings, Rod Smith bid a tearful goodbye to the game he has loved since childhood.

The 13-year receiver and career Bronco sat somberly in the front of the room Thursday, listening as President and CEO Pat Bowlen and Head Coach Mike Shanahan talked about a legendary career, then he stood to address the crowd of reporters, photographers, former teammates and current Broncos himself.

"I’m going to miss being in that seat right there," Smith said, standing in the team meeting room. "I’m going to miss the locker room. If I didn’t do anything else I hope I was a great teammate. That’s all I ever wanted to do, was win. And being a part of this organization was amazing. That’s all I’ve got."

And he gave a lot.

Smith was signed as an college free agent after he wasn't selected in the 1994 NFL Draft. He spent that season on the Broncos practice squad, then in 1995 he played in all 16 games and never looked back. From 1995 to 2006, Smith missed only nine games. He played in 183.

In that span, the 6-foot receiver from Missouri Southern University set more than half a dozen Broncos franchise records: 849 career receptions; 11,389 receiving yards; 12,488 all-purpose yards; 68 touchdown catches; 71 overall touchdowns; 31 100-yard receiving games; and eight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.  Not bad for an undrafted receiver.

Speaking of which, Smith also leads all undrafted players in NFL history in every major career receiving category and leaves the game ranked 12th in the overall league annals in career receptions, 19th in career receiving yards and tied for 31st in career receiving touchdowns.

The three-time Pro Bowler is one of only seven players in NFL history to record back-to-back 100-catch seasons, which he did in 2000 and 2001. His streak of nine seasons with 70 or more catches from 1997-2005 ties for the second longest in league history.

There are 19 wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Smith has more catches than 18 of them.

Starting to sound like a list? That's a credit to the player Smith was. And in an era when it's harder and harder to find players who spend their entire career with a team, Smith did it all with the Broncos.

"When my son was born, the first football I ever bought him was an orange and blue Nerf football," said a teary-eyed Smith. "That was in college and it just so happens that was the uniform I’ve been wearing ever since. Fate put me here, and I’m glad."

"I’m always going to be in Denver. I’ve rooted myself in this city for a reason," he continued. "I never wanted to and I never got the opportunity to go anywhere else. And I appreciate that they never put me out to test the market -- the market for me has always been right here."

Much of the press conference was spent discussing Smith's illustrious career, filled with big plays and bigger records. But it wasn't all about the field with Smith. While he loved running between the hashmarks on Sundays, he loved helping out in the community just as much. Smith was a vocal leader on the field and in the locker room and it transferred to the community. He was voted the Broncos' Walter Payton Man of the Year in both 2004 and 2006, signifying his importance to his fellow players and coaches and the Denver community as a whole.

Most importantly, Smith loved the fans. And before he left the stage Thursday, he wanted to address the fans personally.

"The Broncos fans are special to me, and I appreciate all you guys really supporting me," Smith said. "I love when I see little kids running around the mall and they have on a No. 80 jersey, it just makes me smile. They don’t know how much that means to me. I’m letting you know, if I don’t come up to you personally, I appreciate you, every single one of you."

Asked what's next for him, Smith joked, "Some yardwork." But Smith leaving the game doesn't mean that he's leaving the Broncos organization. In fact, Bowlen wants to see to it that Smith always remains a part of the team.

"I hope there’s a way that we can keep you involved in this organization, that’s something that I’m a very strong proponent of," Bowlen said to Smith, who he called "obviously the greatest wide receiver to ever play for the Denver Broncos."

Smith said he would accept the team's offer to have a role in the organization after his retirement. At one point, Shanahan said Smith will always have a job with the team. Smith let out a big, "Yesssssss!" with a fist pump, drawing laughter from the crowd. "We'll have to talk about salary," Shanahan said with a smile.

But Smith's involvement won't be anything new. He has already been seen around the facilities at various times this offseason, chatting with coaches and players, even attending a practice during team camp. He talked with some of the new Broncos receivers, including Keary Colbert, who made it clear when he signed with the team that Smith is one of his idols.

"He has had a career that has been remarkable," Colbert said. "I’m really trying to put in a career and a season like he has done in the past. That’s the start of it really, getting to know how to do it through him. He has the blueprint, and I just have to follow it."

With such a remarkable career behind him, the talk around Smith will sooner rather than later turn toward Canton.

"People ask me should Rod Smith be in the Hall of Fame -- you’re darn right he should," Shanahan said.

Smith, standing beside a "Thanks for the memories" banner, was asked what he thought about his coach's comments.

"I think Mike’s a brilliant man," he laughed. "That just adds to his legacy."

"Honestly I don’t know how they measure who goes in the Hall of Fame," he added. "But I did everything I could, and I would love to have a speech there someday."