ENGLEWOOD — A mere 55 yards. That’s all that separates Denver Broncos receiver Rod Smith from the 10,000-yard club.
Smith has had that many yards on one catch eight times in his 10-year career. So realistically, Smith should have that amount before halftime festivities roll around during Monday night’s game against Kansas City (7 p.m., Ch. 7). The milestone is all but in the bag.
So why not talk about the lofty plateau?
Just try to get Smith to speak about it, though. That’s as tough as cleaning the teeth of a lion. Getting Smith to talk
about records that concern him makes him clam up. Smith’s the polar opposite of Philly’s Terrell Owens or Oakland’s Randy Moss, not wanting the spotlight to shine too brightly on him.
“Next question,” Smith said when asked about reaching the 10,000-yard club.
C’mon, let’s talk about your impending milestone?
“NEXT QUESTION,” Smith said as he glared holes into the asker of the question.
While Smith doesn’t want to make a big deal out of the milestone, it remains a big deal. After all, Smith would become just the second undrafted player to reach the 10K club. The only other receiver to achieve that feat was Washington’s Gary Clark, who had 10,856 yards from 1985 to 1995.
“Rod just gets it done,” Kansas City cornerback Patrick Surtain said. “He’s not the flashy type, but each and every year you look up there and he’s at the top of the league in catches or yards. He’s consistent. He’s not going to have highs and lows, he’s going to be solid for you each and every week and each and every year.”
That’s an apt description of Smith. He is Mr. Clutch for Denver. He’s caught passes in a team-record 94 straight games, and is the team’s all-time leader in yards (9,945), receptions (727) and touchdowns (59).
Not bad for a guy who was not among the 29 receivers taken in the 1994 NFL Draft. There were 222 players selected, and Smith, for whatever reason, wasn’t among them. Some will say it was because he was too slow to play in the NFL, while others claim a bum knee while at Missouri Southern plummeted his stock.
Either way, the arguments don’t hold much weight. Smith is a two-time pro bowler, who’s had an incredible run in the NFL.
Even in what should be the twilight of his career, Smith’s still producing. Smith finished with 1,144 yards last season, which was his seventh 1,000-yard season. He also had 79 catches.
Since 1997, Smith has had 705 receptions, which is second behind only Indy’s Marvin Harrison (790). He leads such notable receivers as Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith (697), Owens (646) and Dallas’ Keyshawn Johnson (615).
“Obviously, he’s gifted,” Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said. “They do a very, very good job taking advantage of his talents. He’s a very, very tough competitor. I think every coach who has coached against him has tremendous respect for the way he plays the game.”
Had things gone differently, Smith could’ve belonged to Kansas City. Having played at Missouri Southern, where he set league records in receiving yards (3,043) and touchdowns (34), he was a known commodity to the Chiefs. But Kansas City went in another direction. Kansas City selected Lake Dawson and Chris Penn in 1994, and the pair had a combined 156 catches for 2,170 yards. That’s precisely 571 catches and 7,775 yards behind Smith.
Think Kansas City made a bad choice? That’s just a rhetorical question.
Ever since, he’s made it his mission to make the Chiefs pay for the oversight. Of his 29 100-yard games, nine have come at the Chiefs’ expense. Kansas City expects to be fed a steady diet of No. 80 on Monday.
“He comes up big every week for them,” Surtain said.
Smith does at that. That’s why he’s climbing up the career receiving-yards chart.
He’s currently 23rd on the NFL’s all-time list. Owens is directly ahead of him, but Smith could soon surpass retired players like former Bronco Shannon Sharpe (10,060 yards), Andre Rison (10,205) and Lance Alworth (10,266).
“I can’t think of a guy that I’ve enjoyed more as a professional than Rod Smith,” Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. “Just by the way he practiced and handled himself, you knew the guy was a winner, and would have success.”
Just don’t ask Smith about his success. He doesn’t want to talk about his own private numbers, or milestones he could reach Monday.
“You want to talk about the Kansas City game, I’ll talk,” he said.
If the topic is about him, move on to the next question.