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Sundays with Sacco: Dennis Smith, DS49

The Broncos' Ring of Fame honors those who have most impacted the franchise. Here are photos of all 34 members, arranged in order of their selection from when the Ring of Fame was created in 1984.

I am delighted that my column has found a permanent location on the Denver Broncos' website as "Sundays with Sacco."

It is all about football, and there is no single calendar day more attached to a sports league than is Sunday with the National Football League.

Most of us are big fans of a lot of different sports, but the culture and economic structure of the United States has more Americans off on Sundays than any other day, and watching NFL football is part of our national sports DNA.

Bert Bell was the NFL commissioner before Pete Rozelle, serving in the post from 1946 until his death in 1959, and it was Bell who coined the term "any given Sunday," noting the possibility that in the NFL any given team can win any game.

Then Rozelle took the game to crazy new heights with national multi-network television contracts that allowed fans in every city to watch their team on television every single Sunday.

The game has grown exponentially to include Monday, Thursday and Saturday games, but the football world will always revolve around Sunday.

And what better way to kick off this column than with a Sunday kind of guy, Dennis Smith.

The Denver Broncos have a great history of players at the safety position, including Ring of Famers and potential future Hall of Famers, spanning every era of team history.

No one ever hit any harder, game in and game out, than Dennis Smith, "DS49," a spin on the New York public school naming convention. It somehow just fit him, maybe because the pulsating pace of New York City was a match for his on field persona.

Future Ring of Famer Dennis Smith joined the Broncos as a first-round draft choice (15th overall in 1981) out of the University of Southern California, and he made an immediate impact with his aggressive style of play.

I had a chance to catch up with him and his lovely wife Andree' recently, doing an interview with him for my in-season television show, "Broncos Sideline Stories with Jim Saccomano."

We talked about some great games and great memories.

Dennis was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a starter on three AFC championship teams, so he has plenty of memories.

But being with Andree' reminded me of some memories that I have been able to share with the Smiths, but memories which are not shared by most fans.

From the stands, and on television, we see the style of play and the big hits.

"My style was to approach every tackle like I was going to run through the ball carrier," Dennis said. "I had that approach for every tackle in every game of my career."

Fans will attest to his aggressive style of play, but generally they are unaware of the total results.

"I never played a game in which I was not bloodied afterwards," Dennis commented.

Indeed, I remember a Monday morning after a home win when Andrea stopped by my public relations department for something, and we were chatting in my office.

I asked where she was off to, and Andrea said in a casual manner, "I need to go to the department store to buy some sheets."

"On a Monday morning after he plays, I literally have to peel the sheets off Dennis. He is stuck to them somewhere due to some type of blood, somewhere on his body. Sometimes I can wash the sheets and the stains come out, and sometimes I have to go to the store to buy new sheets. This is a 'new sheets' day."

And off she went.

I have mentioned that story to them since then, and Dennis just chuckled and said, "That is how I played the game. Sometimes I might have taken more time off to get healed, but that was never my style. I played, and I only played one way."

Talking about injuries, he noted that "even though Minnesota was not a team we played every year, I always seemed to get hurt when I played the Vikings."

He held up his left hand and pointed out his ring finger. I knew the story, but asked him to share it again.

He jammed it, bent it, damaged it in every way, starting against the Vikings and continuing because of his all out style, and doctors eventually suggested they should just go ahead and amputate the digit.

"I said 'no' and they said, 'You can't use it as you should, we could just take it off.' But I felt like, 'It's my finger. It's part of me, no matter how much I can use it, or bend it, or if I can at all.'"

So he kept the finger, and kept on hitting.

One style, every game, every Sunday.

Two of his greatest moments, among so many, came against the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers.

The Cleveland game was the third of the AFC Championship Game victories by the Broncos, when Dennis Smith helped lead the way to Super Bowl XXIV with two interceptions of Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar.

"I really felt like I helped lead the team to that Super Bowl," Dennis said. "I was never just along for the ride. I was well all season and felt we paved the way on defense that year."

The other moment came in one of the greatest Bronco games I have ever seen, a Nov. 17, 1985 overtime win by the Broncos against the Chargers in Denver, 30-24.

San Diego kicker Bob Thomas was lined up to kick a game-winning field goal in the south end of old Mile High Stadium, but Smith had great penetration from the corner and blocked the kick.

The euphoria was short-lived, however, when the officials ruled that fellow safety Mike Harden had signaled for time out just a split second before.

In the special teams huddle, Smith said, "I think I can get it again."

Really, how often does the same player literally block two consecutive kicks on consecutive plays? It almost never happens.

But Dennis Smith did just that, and the second block bounced perfectly into the arms of the fleet Louis Wright, another future Ring of Famer, who picked it up and headed the length of the field untouched for the game-winning play.

It was incredible, and one of the most stunning moments I have ever witnessed in my six decades of watching Broncos football.

But the greatness of that play was vintage Dennis Smith.

He only played one way, and he never let up.

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