Smith's career could be over after another hip surgery

Updated: December 28, 2007, 5:31 PM ET
Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The dogged determination that helped transform Rod Smith from an unknown and undrafted wide receiver out of Missouri Southern into a Pro Bowler and a two-time Super Bowl champion might ultimately spell the end of his career.

The 37-year-old Denver Broncos co-captain revealed Friday that his surgically repaired left hip hurts more than ever and that a specialist in Los Angeles will resurface or replace the joint in January.

Rod Smith

Smith

"It has not healed," said Smith, who's been out all season. "It's not healing at all.

"Honestly, I don't even like walking on it," he said. "It's that bad right now to me, and it's a matter of the hip socket has been bone-on-bone for a while. That's [difficult], especially trying to play pro football on it. And, honestly, I think I did for a while without knowing it was probably doing more damage to it than good."

An artificial hip replacement almost certainly would mean he's caught his last NFL pass.

"I was always told you play this game as long as you can and if I've played my last football game, I did that," Smith said. "And so I'm OK with that."

Smith, who has more catches, touchdown receptions and receiving yards than any undrafted player in NFL history, first felt pain in the hip in 2004 but said nothing.

After undergoing microfracture surgery in February, he revealed he had played in agonizing pain all of last season and had been unable to get a good night's sleep for nearly a year.

The hip was such a mess -- torn labrum, frayed cartilage, bone spurs, floating fragments -- that his surgeon at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo., couldn't believe he had played on it at all.

Smith rehabbed all summer and hoped to return for the last half of this season. But after working his way up to running routes in October, he said he couldn't get out of bed most mornings and realized the hip wasn't healing.

"My mentality is what kept me here this long, being able to withstand pain and play hurt," he said. "But when you get injured, it's a different thing. And that same tenacity that helped me stay in the league this long is probably going to be the same thing that takes me out of the league."

While stressing he hasn't decided to have the hip replacement, Smith sounded very much like a man who's pondering retirement. He said he realized while spending Christmas with his children that he's been missing out on so much.

"It wasn't really about gifts. It was about being around them," he said. "Their lives are changing so much because they're getting older, and I've got to be a part of that. I've missed a lot of things. My son had his first high school football [season] as a freshman this year, and I didn't see not one game. And that's very important to me. I got the tape, but that's not the same thing.

"And my daughter is about to get out of high school and thinking about going to college. Those things are important. Those decisions are coming up in their life, and I need to be a part of it, as well. Whether football works out or not, I need to be a part of those things."

Smith holds franchise records for career receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389), touchdown catches (68), touchdowns (71) and 100-yard games (31). He leads all undrafted players in every major receiving category.

He spent this season as a sideline spectator in sweats, talking technique and sharing advice with his teammates, but he said it pained him to watch the Broncos (6-9) slide to their first losing season since 1999 despite a talented team that fancied itself a contender back in camp.

"I've always been this way: if we're going to get our butt kicked, then I want to get mine kicked, too," Smith said. "But trust me, I'm definitely taking my lumps either way, on the sideline or out there."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press