Smith lets numbers speak for themselves, prepares for life after football

2008 football season predictions horribly mistaken, but Tatum knows talent

2008 football season predictions ‘horribly mistaken,’ but Tatum knows talent

Cody Dyer

Here’s something that might make you feel a little older. It’s been more than a decade since Rod Smith strolled the sidelines as a Missouri Southern Lion.

When Rod Smith stepped onto the field at Fred G. Hughes Stadium for the first time, little did he – or anyone for that matter – know what would transpire over the next few seasons.

Smith became one of the greats in Southern football history. He helped MSSU capture its first – and to date only – MIAA title in 1993.

He was more than just an athlete.

His passion on the field matched his passion in the classroom. He garnered Missouri Southern’s Outstanding Graduate in 1994 after completing school with three degrees – in economics and finance, marketing and management and general business.

He attributes his early success to the late Jon Lantz, who guided Smith and the Lions to a sparkling 9-0 run in 1993.

“I had some amazing mentors in my life,” Smith said. “A few of them just passed recently and I would just like to thank them. He (Lantz) taught me how to dream big and it worked.”

In today’s age of athletes calling for big money and more respect, Smith was a breath of fresh air. He was a rational athlete who respected the game, his coaches, his teammates and fans. His attitude and outlook on life is a reflection of Lantz’s leadership at the college level and Mike Shanahan’s leadership at the professional level.

“I’ve been able to play for the best coach in sports,” Smith said. “I have had some of the most amazing coaches and teammates. I have been blessed. It couldn’t have been better being a guy from a small school, Missouri Southern, from Texarkana, Ark., and getting to come to an establishment (the Denver Broncos) and get to be a part of something special.”

When Smith arrived on the scene in Denver he wasn’t sure – like most rookies in their first professional camp – if he was going to make it.

Thank God for Denver Post columnist Woody Paige.

It was a preseason game and Smith was assigned to return punts.

I am trying to make the team and I am hungry,” Smith said. “I fair caught a punt and I caught it on the 7-yard line. I did it twice. The next day he (Paige) said that it was a good thing they didn’t throw Rod Smith a pass because he would have fair caught it. That pissed me off. I said, ‘You know what? I am going to prove that guy wrong.’

It was the first and last time Smith read anything written by Paige.

“It’s crazy,” Smith said, “but the article inspired me. Woody is very good at what he does and it made me mad, but it inspired me. I wanted to prove that if the Broncos threw me the football I was going to catch it.”

Smith would go on to collect 849 catches in 12 seasons with the Broncos. Along the way, Smith helped the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998.

Does Smith deserve a place in Canton?

“Honestly, I don’t know how to measure who goes into the Hall of Fame,” Smith said. “I know people who didn’t put on cleats made it into the Hall of Fame.”

Anyone who knows Smith understands he isn’t going sit around and promote himself – his career numbers speak for themselves. No, Smith doesn’t agonize about what will happen next.

He has prepared himself for life after football, and it all started here at MSSU.