The rings were a reminder of what once was, the shades to hide
Smith stepped into a room full of family, friends and teammates
Thursday and announced his NFL career was done.
He tried to tell a joke to start things off, but his usual
wisecracks failed him. Instead, he pulled a tissue from his pocket
and dabbed at his eyes.
Saying farewell wasn't easy.
"I gave them everything I had," Smith said as he choked up
while announcing his retirement.
For that, Broncos president and CEO Pat Bowlen was truly
appreciative, calling Smith the best Broncos player not named John
Elway that he's ever had play for him.
"If I ever get anybody like you or like John again, I'm going
to be very fortunate," Bowlen said.
Smith, 38, had been on the reserve/retired list since February
and has had two hip operations in the past year and a half. He's
the franchise's career leader in every major receiving category.
"Rod is the only person I've ever been around on a consistent
basis, day in and day out, that never cared about his stats,"
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "All Rod talked about was
His numbers were nice, though. Smith holds franchise records for
career receptions (849), yards receiving (11,389), touchdown
catches (68), touchdowns (71) and 100-yard games (31).
The former Missouri Southern star also leads undrafted players
in every major receiving category.
As for his immediate future, that's easy -- yard work. Lots of
it. That will be followed by spending time with his kids and
finishing up a few real estate ventures.
"From Day 1 when I came into this building, I've always thought
about the end," Smith said. "I never knew when it was going to
be. I've always prepared myself for life after football. But
football kept getting in the way - for 14 years, thank God.
"I'm going to miss the locker room. If I didn't do anything
else, I hope I was a great teammate. All I ever wanted to do was
The Broncos would welcome Smith's return to the team as a coach.
Either that or as a mentor for the young receivers, a role he's
already serving with Brandon Marshall, accompanying him to a
meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently to discuss
Marshall's string of off-the-field legal troubles.
"I would like him to be involved in some capacity," Shanahan
said. "Right now, I think it's a little bit too soon for him, but
we would always have a spot if he wants to come back in some
capacity, and I hope he does."
Smith knew his career was finished the day after the Broncos
beat Minnesota 22-19 in overtime to close out the season.
It was his body that made the decision for him. The left hip
just wouldn't allow him to put in the work that he's revered for
his entire career.
"The same thing that got me into the league is the same thing
that got me out of the league, which is grinding, going to work
hard every day, putting in work," he said. "Could I possibly play
football? Possibly. Do I want to get myself in that kind of shape?
It's hard, man. I can't see me playing football this year being
better for my body in the long run ... I'm happy with (the
decision). Honestly. I know I'm crying so it doesn't seem like I'm
happy. Trust me, I'm very happy."
After all, he's got loads of memories. His favorites include
Terrell Davis rushing for 2,008 yards in 1998 and Elway throwing
his 300th touchdown pass. He felt like he played a role in both,
blocking downfield for Davis and hauling in his fair share of
"That's why you play sports - so the 12-year-old comes out in
you," he said. "No one can take those memories away from you."
Shanahan knew there was something special about Smith shortly
after the coach's arrival in 1995. He was watching film, and this
practice squad player kept burning the first-team defense.
"You keep looking and saying, 'Why can't they cover this
guy?"' Shanahan said. "Then you say, 'Holy cow, I've got myself a
Smith was promoted from the practice squad that season. His
first career catch went for a 43-yard game-winning touchdown as he
outjumped Washington's Darrell Green for the ball as time expired.
It was merely a preview.
"Anytime you are able to get a player like Rod Smith when you
start out as a young coach, you really don't know how lucky you
are," Shanahan said. "I am just so proud to have a guy like
So, should Smith be in the Hall of Fame?
"You're darn right he should," Shanahan said.
Broncos assistant coach and good friend Keith Burns supported
"If it's numbers they go off of, he's a shoo-in," Burns said.
"If they're looking at the person, he's a shoo-in. So, where does
he not qualify to be in the Hall of Fame?"
Smith would love to join Elway and offensive lineman Gary
Zimmerman in Canton, Ohio. But it's out of his control.
"I did everything I could," he said.