Former Denver Broncos star receiver Rod Smith never believed he had it made until the day he decided to hang up No. 80 for the last time.
“I never looked at what I was doing . . . I never looked at my stats the majority of the time, I just kept my head down and worked hard,” said Smith.
“One day I said I was done. I had a couple of injuries and rather than pushing it I decided I’d rather give more time to other people and things and that’s what I did. That’s when I realized I made it.”
Smith, who was at the Golden Circle Saturday as part of a promotional seminar for Organo Gold coffee, finished his 14-year career — all with the Broncos — as one of the premier receivers in National Football League history.
He accumulated 849 receptions and 11,389 yards and is the only undrafted player to break the 10,000 yard barrier.
Born in 1970, Smith grew up as the middle child of five kids in a single family dwelling in Texarkana, Ar., a community of 60,000.
He attended Missouri Southern State University, a Division II school, and was eventually signed by the Broncos in 1994 and added to their practice roster.
He made their full time roster in 1995 and never looked back.
The six-foot, 200-pound Smith also never let the fact he was overlooked in the draft bother him.
“It’s not where you start, but where you finish,” said the 40-year-old. “I grew up in the projects and low income housing and attended a small school. There were a lot of challenges, but I had a belief and that’s the key to everything.
“I have a blue collar attitude, a lot like the people in this country. They’re hard-working people like the people in the southern United States.
“I always believed I was going to make it. I never looked at it as woe is me, but as an opportunity. I put my cleats on every day and for 14 years straight I poured myself into the business.
“I always tell people I lied to myself a lot by telling myself how great I was. I’d tell myself ‘you’re better than Jerry Rice you just don’t know it yet’ and then go to work.’
Smith is an inspiration to others who may have been overlooked.
“It’s awesome to see people looking at my story and saying they can make it if he can make it,” he said.
And he put together a career that should send him to the Hall of Fame.
“I do think about it,” he said. “I’ve been out (of the league) for two years and it comes up, but somebody else decides if I should go, so I can’t worry about it. Do I believe I should make it? Ya, if you look at my numbers and consider where I started.
“Also look at the number of running backs we had who rushed for thousands of yards and I still performed. I blocked and did the dirty work down field. I returned punts and did whatever the team needed me to do.”
Smith not only did his job blocking for the running backs, which the Broncos are famous for, but in 2001 led the NFL with 113 receptions and in 2000 had 100 catches for 1,602 yards, second most in the league back of Torry Holt of the St. Louis Rams, who had 1,635 yards.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times, was a two-time all-pro and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 98.
Looking back on his career, it’s not the numbers, nor the team accomplishments that he remembers the most.
“It’s the relationships,” he said. “You remember the Super Bowls, but the relationships you make with the guys will never be broken.”
Smith always seemed to have a strong relationship with quarterback John Elway.
“It seemed we had that bond where we didn’t need to say anything. He’d just look a certain way and I knew what he wanted to do. It made my life a lot easier . . . he was the best at it.”
Smith still spend a little time working with individual receivers with the Broncos, but isn’t interested in a full time position.
“I’ve had three offers, but I love what I’m doing with Organo Gold and I don’t want to be a baby sitter of a bunch of millionaires. I don’t want to be around a bunch of self-centred guys when I can be around the people in this room.”
Smith has worked with former Bronco Brandon Marshall, now with Miami, and Denver’s young receiver Eddie Royal.
He also sees a big change in the player today than when he was in his prime.
“There’s more whining and crying,” he said. “They’re more selfish, not so much team orientated. I don’t see the guys working for each other, but rather working for themselves. I know when I played it didn’t matter who scored, as long as we did. But today guys make a big deal out of it and society seems to accept it. On our team everyone worked together and that’s why we won two Super Bowls.”
Smith got involved with Organo Gold, which includes (black, latte and mocha) coffee, green tea and hot chocolate, on the ground floor in September of 2008.
It’s a product that includes Ganoderma, a herb from China.
“I never used to drink coffee, but I’ve seen the benefits and now I do,” he said. “Ninety percent of people in Canada drink coffee, so if it helps make people healthier so much the better.”
Smith was in Calgary Friday and is in Fort St. John today. He moves on to Grande Prairie Monday before flying home.