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Sacco Sez: Broncos Ring of Famer Dennis Smith spurred crazy win over Chargers

At halftime of the Monday night game the Broncos of course unveiled the newest Ring of Fame class, which included linebacker Simon Fletcher, kicker Jason Elam and safety John Lynch.

Lynch was a great safety throughout his NFL career, and he was joined for the ceremonies by another great safety in Denver history, Dennis Smith. Broncos fans nicknamed him "DS49", a takeoff on the numerical New York City public school system.

Dennis is a great personal friend and is southern Californian through and through. He went to high school at Santa Monica High School, where he was a big star for the Vikings and earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California. While at USC, he was part of a future pro defensive backfield that included himself, Joey Porter, Ronnie Lott and Jeff Fisher.

He was a first-round draft choice of the Broncos and enjoyed a stellar career here from 1981-94.  Without question, he was one of the great NFL safeties of the 1980s. He was a four-time All-NFL choice (1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993) and a key component of seven Bronco playoff teams.

Dennis was a ferocious hitter who was on three Denver Super Bowl teams in the 1980s, the most of any AFC team or safety in that decade.

He told me on Monday, "If I played today, I would have to adjust my hitting style a bit. But I would have adjusted it and been just as good."

I concur, as it is unimaginable that he would not be one of the top safeties of any era. As I said, he was always a California guy who called Denver his second home.  He built a house in the Hollywood Hills, always lived there in the off-season and he and his lovely wife Andree' still reside there.   

Every time I see him I am reminded of one of his (or anybody's) greatest combined defense/special teams games ever, and it came against the San Diego Chargers.

It was on November 17, 1985, when the Broncos and Chargers played the only game in NFL history in which the first and last touches of the football resulted in touchdowns.

San Diego running back Gary Anderson returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Chargers would have made it a 10-0 lead if a first quarter 47-yard field goal attempt by San Diego kicker Bob Thomas had not been blocked by Smith.  For good measure, Smith also made the recovery.

It is a big deal to block a kick anytime, but this was the first one in a historic day for Smith.

The battle between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway and Dan Fouts ultimately went into overtime tied at 24-24. The possessions went back and forth in overtime until Fouts drove San Diego down to the Broncos 23-yard line late in the contest. 

And then one of the most amazing back-to-back special teams sequences in football history took place.

Thomas tried a 40-yard field goal attempt, and it was blocked by Smith, his second blocked field goal of the day.

But Denver defensive captain and fellow safety Mike Harden had signaled a time out simultaneously as the ball was snapped.  The officials recognized the timeout, wiping out the play and sending disappointed Bronco special teamers back to the huddle.

"It's OK, I think I can block it again," Smith said. 

Optimism is great, but when have you ever seen the same player block a game-winning kick on consecutive attempts? The answer was never.

Until the next attempt. 

Thomas lined up for the game-winning 40-yard kick, the ball was snapped, and Smith again blocked the kick. This time, the ball took a perfect one-hop bounce into the hands of fellow future Ring of Famer Louis Wright, who returned it untouched 60 yards for the winning touchdown in overtime.

Since there is no extra point attempt in overtime, the first and last touches of the ball had been for touchdowns. To this day, that November afternoon marked the only such occurrence in NFL history.

Of course, only two of the blocked field goals by Dennis Smith officially counted, as the third was wiped out by penalty. But Smith became the only player in NFL history to lead his team in tackles (nine) and passes defensed (three) on defense, while in the same game blocking two field goal attempts, including one that was on the last play of the game in overtime and was returned by his team for the winning score.

With the conclusion of the Ring of Fame ceremonies, Dennis and Andree' Smith are back in their California home. That's where they will watch the Broncos and Chargers again this week in a matchup of original American Football League teams who have played each other twice a year since 1960. But no matter what happens Sunday afternoon, it will be hard to match the excitement Smith created so many years ago.

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