Greatest wide receiver in Denver Broncos history?
Undoubtedly, the answer is Rod Smith.
On Thursday, Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen announced Rod Smith will become the 23rd member of the Ring of Fame, a classy move for a classy competitor.
Smith was straight up spectacular on the football field, pushing his body to the limit to squeeze every ounce of athleticism out of his smallish, somewhat slow frame.
He was never the biggest, strongest or fastest receiver, but No. 80 was respected as a deep threat that could out-position his opponents and a fiercely tough pass-catcher that would gladly go across the middle.
He was smart, knowing when to break down his route and dive under potential big hits, preserving his health and allowing himself to enjoy a long and prosperous career.
That career, which spanned from 1995-2006, goes down as the greatest stretch any Denver Broncos' receiver ever enjoyed. His 849 receptions, 11,389 receiving yards and 68 touchdowns are all No. 1 on the list in franchise history and he was the Broncos No. 1 receiving threat from 1997-2005 as an integral piece of the back-to-back Super Bowl winning teams and the AFC Championship losing squad in '05.
But even before the NFL, Rod Smith was a winner.
Growing up, he was one of five children to a single mother, Lydia Smith, in a family that depended on a monthly welfare check to make ends meet.
He didn't let the projects of Texarkana, Arkansas hold him down though, he moved up and onto college, at Missouri Southern State, where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball while earning three business-related bachelor's degrees.
After a superb college career—which included league records in receiving yards and touchdowns and being a finalist for the Harlon Hill Award for the top D-II player—Smith went undrafted, but he didn't let it hold him back.
He landed in Denver on the practice squad and worked tirelessly to become part of the gameday roster.
Rod Smith's work ethic was one of his most key characteristics; it was unmatched certainly by any Broncos player during his time on the team, and he was arguably the hardest working receiver in the NFL during his career.
In the offseason, he toiled to master his craft and receiver's coach Mike Heimerdinger—who worked under Mike Shanahan—schooled Smith on how to maximize his athleticism and taught him the importance of route running precision.
Smith made the team in 1995, and his first catch was a sign of the brilliance to come.
In Week Three of that season, with the Broncos tied 31-31 against the Redskins and only six seconds remaining on the clock, John Elway dropped back and threw up a prayer to Smith, who streaked down the middle of the field and jumped to his peak to snatch the ball out of the air and away from two Washington defenders. He caught the ball as time expired and the Broncos won the game.
Then in 1997, Smith elevated into the No. 1 receiver role on Denver's first Super Bowl winning team. He remained in that role in 1998 and his 80-yard bomb from Elway was an early knockout blow that cemented the back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
He ran off seven straight years of 70-plus catches and 1,000 yards, one of only two wideouts to ever do so, and he's the only undrafted player to eclipse the 10,000 yard receiving mark in the history of the NFL.
Smith was far more than a receiver though, he returned kicks and punts, ran end-arounds and even threw the ball five times. Yes, Smith, who was originally recruited by Missouri Southern State to play quarterback, was the Broncos' emergency QB when Shanny decided to roll the dice with only two quarterbacks in 2006.
And it can't be missed that he piled up all those numbers in a run-dominated offense where he was required to be a solid blocker, securing the corner and allowing backs to bust outside for big gains.
What he did for teammates during his span was significant as well, teaching younger receivers the ins and outs of the NFL while leading the entire team through his actions.
Rod Smith never missed a workout in his 12 seasons as a professional football player, even when he knew deep down his spot on the roster was secure.
Smith is a Denver Broncos legend, not only for his on the field accomplishments, but for his stalwart leadership with teammates and the consistent professionalism he exudes off the field as well.
Smith continues to be an influential piece of the Denver landscape; being directly involved in five Denver-area charities, buying up real estate and developing land in the Mile High City, while also starting lucrative coffee, travel and communication companies.
Rod Smith stands as a role model; once arguably the greatest receiver in the NFL, yet he never acted like a diva or even danced in the end zone, he simply dominated on Sundays by out-working his opponents every day.