One of the long-standing practices in football is to have some offensive and defensive starters playing special teams. They are often the best players on the team, so they can lend athleticism and leadership to special teams.
And perhaps the greatest one-man show by a Denver Broncos defensive starter on special teams came vs. the Chargers on Nov. 17, 1985.
The player was future Ring of Fame safety Dennis Smith, and he did something that few players have ever matched: blocking three field-goal attempts in a single game.
The game itself was one of the best ever played at old Mile High Stadium, the only game in NFL history in which both the first and last touches of the ball resulted in touchdowns.
San Diego running back and kick returner Gary Anderson took the opening kick of the game and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, so the Broncos trailed 7-0 just 17 seconds into the game.
On the very next Chargers possession, they drove down the field and tried a 47-yard field goal, but it was blocked by Smith. At the time, no one had any idea what similar heroics the Southern Cal product would produce at the end of the contest.
The game was a great back-and-forth struggle by two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, with John Elway completing 28 passes for 261 yards and a score, while Dan Fouts posted 23 completions for 245 yards and a touchdown.
The Chargers led the game by three points until Elway engineered one of his patented last-minute drives, this one resulting in a game-tying 34-yard field goal by Denver's Rich Karlis to tie the score with just five seconds left.
There would be just one possession in the overtime.
Fouts led the Chargers down the field for a 40-yard field goal attempt by Bob Thomas, but Dennis Smith had other ideas.
Through the Years: Broncos vs. Chargers
Photos from throughout the Broncos' history with the Chargers, both in Los Angeles and San Diego.
Smith rushed in from the right side of the line and blocked the attempt, but he did not realize that at the very last second, Broncos' safety and captain Mike Harden had called time, negating the block and giving Thomas another chance.
The next thing that happened is something that never really happens.
Smith told his teammates in the Denver huddle, "I can block it again. Really."
Kickers always seem to connect on a second-chance kick, but this time the astonishing happened.
Smith again rushed in from the right, again blocked the field goal attempt, and this time it took a perfect one-hop bounce into the hands of another future Ring of Famer, cornerback Louis Wright, who scooped it up and ran 60 yards untouched into the end zone. As a result, the Broncos earned a 30-24 win.
And Smith had accomplished something I have only seen once in 69 years of Broncos football: the same player blocking three field goal attempts in a single game, two on consecutive attempts. One of those attempts was of course negated by the timeout, but it nevertheless happened.
The overtime score did not require an extra-point attempt, making this the only game in NFL history in which both the first and last touches of the ball resulted in touchdowns.
After the game, Denver kicker Rich Karlis expressed sympathy for the fate of fellow kicker Thomas, but the Chargers' placekicker evidently was not too traumatized by the consecutive blocks.
Thomas played a total of 12 years in the NFL, made 151 field goals, and now is a justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. He has served as a Supreme Court justice for the Second District since 2000 and as chief justice from Sept. 6, 2005 to Sept. 5, 2008.
But that day was a game for the ages on special teams by the Broncos' Dennis Smith.
For 14 years of plays just like that and a career that included three Super Bowl appearances, six Pro Bowls and four All-AFC selections, Smith was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 2001.
No game, though, was as “special” as that 1985 contest against the Chargers.