Rod Smith faces more surgery; career over?
Vail, CO Colorado
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado ” The dogged determination that helped transform Rod Smith from an unknown and undrafted wide receiver out of Missouri Southern into a perennial Pro Bowler and a two-time Super Bowl champion might ultimately spell the end of his illustrious career.
The 37-year-old Denver Broncos co-captain revealed Friday that his surgically repaired left hip, which sidelined him all season, hurts more than ever and that a specialist in Los Angeles will either resurface or replace the joint in January.
“It has not healed,” Smith said. “It’s not healing at all.”
An artificial hip replacement will almost certainly mean he’s caught his last NFL pass.
“I was always told you play this game as long as you can and if I’ve played my last football game, I did that,” Smith said. “And so I’m OK with that.”
Smith, who has more catches, touchdown receptions and receiving yards than any undrafted player in NFL history, first felt pain in the hip in 2004, the year before he went to his third Pro Bowl, but he told nobody.
After undergoing microfracture surgery in February, he revealed that he had played in agonizing pain all of last season and had been unable to get a good night’s sleep for nearly a year.
The hip was such a mess ” torn labrum, frayed cartilage, bone spurs, floating fragments ” that his surgeon at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail couldn’t believe he had played on it at all.
“My mentality is what kept me here this long, being able to withstand pain and play hurt,” Smith said Friday. “But when you get injured, it’s a different thing. And that same tenacity that helped me stay in the league this long is probably going to be the same thing that takes me out of the league.”
Smith rehabbed all summer and hoped to return for the last half of this season but after working his way up from jogging gingerly in September to running routes in October, he said he couldn’t get out of bed most mornings and realized the hip wasn’t healing.
“Honestly, I don’t even like walking on it,” he said. “It’s that bad right now to me, and it’s a matter of the hip socket has been bone-on-bone for a while and that’s (difficult), especially trying to play pro football on it. And, honestly, I think I did for a while without knowing it was probably doing more damage to it than good.”
While stressing that he hasn’t decided to have the hip replacement, Smith sounded very much like a man who is pondering retirement. He said he realized while spending Christmas with his children that he’s been missing out on so much.
“It wasn’t really about gifts. It was about being around them,” he said. “And their lives are changing so much because they’re getting older, and I’ve got to be a part of that. I’ve missed a lot of things. My son had his first high school football (season) as a freshman this year, and I didn’t see not one game. And that’s very important to me. I got the tape, but that’s not the same thing.
“And my daughter is about to get out of high school and thinking about going to college. Those things are important, those decisions are coming up in their life and I need to be a part of it, as well. Whether football works out or not, I need to be a part of those things.”
Smith holds franchise records for career receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389), touchdown catches (68), touchdowns (71) and 100-yard games (31). He leads all undrafted players in every major receiving category.
Smith spent this season as a sideline spectator in sweats, talking technique and sharing advice with his teammates, but he said it pained him to watch the Broncos (6-9) slide to their first losing season since 1999 despite a talented team that fancied itself a contender back in camp.
“I’ve always been this way: if we’re going to get our butt kicked, then I want to get mine kicked, too,” Smith said. “But trust me, I’m definitely taking my lumps either way, on the sideline or out there.”
Without being specific, Smith said the what was missing at Dove Valley was enough professionalism and that the team had descended over the last few years into a group of individuals who put personal pursuits ahead of team interests.
“It’s not just players. It’s everything. Everybody’s involved. And I’m sure I’ve probably changed, too, in some way, shape or form, so I’m not pointing the finger at anybody. I include definitely myself in this whole deal,” Smith said. “But the thing is what can we do to change it?
“And I think that’s something that we’re definitely going to address because our record doesn’t indicate the type of organization or football team that we have.”
Smith might very well be watching any changes from afar next season.