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Sacco Sez: The story behind Rod Smith's first catch

The Washington Redskins are one of those NFC East teams with whom the Denver Broncos have just a brief history.

Washington won Super Bowl XXII over Denver, but that day is a memory best put aside for Bronco fans.

A much better one came on Sept. 17, 1995.

I was talking to Ring of Famer Rod Smith earlier this week, and I asked him what he remembers about that date.

"It was the day I made my first NFL catch," Smith said quickly.

It was Smith's only catch of the day, and it came as time expired.

The Broncos and Redskins were playing in Denver, in old Mile High Stadium before the usual capacity crowd, and the two teams were tied 31-31 with just seconds remaining. Denver had the ball at the Washington 48-yard line.

"We were out of wide receivers due to injuries during the game," Smith recalls. "[We were] down to just Ed [McCaffrey] and me. John [Elway] wanted to take one shot at the end zone before the game went to overtime.

"I ran my route, against Darrell Green, and when I turned back for the ball, it was in the air and coming right at me. I leaped and made the catch, and the next thing I knew I came down in the end zone and our guys were all piling on top of me."

Consider the magnitude of that moment, as Smith recorded his first career catch and first career touchdown on the same play. The former undrafted free agent caught Elway's pass over a future Hall of Fame cornerback on that final play — and he would go on to a Ring of Fame career of his own. As you can imagine, Smith accomplished something that day that had never been accomplished.

Pro football's all-time reception leader among undrafted players deflects now, though, when asked about that moment.

"My only thought was that I was just trying to make a play, that was my total focus," Smith said.

Rod Smith was quite a player — and in my opinion, no Bronco ever worked harder and none has ever been more grateful.

"I played for 14 years — no, they let me play for 14 years — because I played every day as it they were going to take my locker away tomorrow," Smith said.

That is true. I had the pleasure of being his public relations man for every second of his pro career, and I could tell story after story about Rod Smith, with almost all of them relating to the immense character of the man, more off the field than on it.

I asked him if during that moment in Washington if he could have imagined 849 receptions, 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns, as well as being inducted as a member of the Ring of Fame.

"It is hard to fathom anything that far ahead, but I was just glad to have a chance," he said.

That's Rod. Just give him a chance and he will never let you down.

He added one final thought on that fabled play, noting that "when John was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he listed that play as one of his top five of his career. That really made it even more special."

The Broncos and Redskins will add another chapter to their history this weekend, but that special moment will also hold a special place in Denver's football lore.

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