Broncos' Smith watches from sideline, his future uncertain
DENVER -- Rod Smith, who caught more catches for more yards and touchdowns than any undrafted player in NFL history, stood on the sideline Sunday, looked up at the stands and took it all in, realizing this might be his last game with the Denver Broncos.
The 37-year-old co-captain who missed the whole season revealed 48 hours earlier 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.
He took time to reminisce on his three Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl wins, knowing this could be it.
"I'm been thinking about that the last five years because in this business you never know when it's going to end. Because one day you're going to wake up and you're going to be right. This could be the last one. If it is, you know, I'm glad our guys played the way they did. I'm really pleased,'' Smith said after Denver's 22-19 win over Minnesota.
Smith, the franchise leader in receptions and touchdowns after joining the team's practice squad in 1994 as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Southern, said he has no regrets.
"I couldn't ask for anything else,'' he said. "I started in this business at the very bottom. I didn't cut the grass, but I did everything else. I was on the practice squad. A lot of people look at you like you're not a professional athlete when you're on the practice squad. But you know what? I have cleats on my feet every day. That's how I make my living. I'm going to go out there and give them everything that I can. And I did that.''
He set franchise records for career receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389), touchdown catches (68) and 100-yard games (31).
"Somebody told me a long time ago, 'You play until they run you out of this business or you can't do it anymore,' '' Smith said. "For me, if I can't play again, it's because I physically can't do it. And I can be OK with that. As far as the numbers and yards and all those things, they're OK. But I'm more proud of the wins, the big wins I've been a part of and helping this franchise especially go over the top with the two Super Bowls.''
If this is the end, Smith said he's glad to pass the torch to Brandon Marshall, who had 102 catches for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns this season, becoming just the third second-year pro to top 100 receptions.
"One year I played with him, so I got to show him. And then I stayed in his ear about little things and I could see him growing,'' Smith said. "It feels good to see him go out and do the things he's done. He's one of those guys, we've talked about him breaking my records. And I tried to put them up there where he couldn't but at the same time I'll be very happy for him if he can.''
Marshall isn't eager to see someone else in Smith's locker anytime soon.
"He's a professional's professional off the field and on the field,'' said Marshall, who credits Smith with his breakout season this year.
"If it wasn't for him, half those catches I wouldn't have, half of those yards I probably wouldn't have picked up,'' Marshall said. "All I can do is pick his brain, but you know what, he lives right around the corner. All I'm going to do is I'm just going to bug him. I'm going to go knock on his door. Even if it's just to watch TV, I'm going to continue to pick his brain.
"Rod's the type of guy he doesn't mind. When I first got drafted, he wasn't threatened. He said, 'You know, I want you to take my position, and I'm going to tell you and teach you everything I know.' And that's exactly what he's done,'' Marshall said. "But I'm pretty sure in that big old head, there's a lot more knowledge I can get from him.''
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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