Denver Broncos Countdown to Kickoff: 80 Days

USA TODAY Sports

Two of the greatest Broncos of all time, WR Rod Smith and WR/KR/PR Rick Upchurch have worn #80 proudly during their respective illustrious careers.

Rod Smith

Perhaps no other Bronco in franchise history epitomizes the winning spirit as well as Rod Smith. You see, Rod Smith wasn't a high round draft pick like Demaryius Thomas. He wasn't a prized free agent like Wes Welker. He was an UDFA rookie that forged his role and became one of the elite receiving threats in the game during his tenure. In this way, Rod Smith blazed the trail for future UDFA rookie phenomenons like Chris Harris and Wesley Woodyard.

It almost didn't happen that way, like many UDFA rookies he faced many obstacles, one of which included being cut by his original team. Rod Smith began his pro football career as a New England Patriot. When he was released early in 1994, the Broncos plucked him from the waiver wires.

For many players, there comes a moment in their career that either defines it or sets the trajectory towards destiny. On September 17th, 1995, against the Washington Redskins, Rod Smith had his moment. In what was his first career reception, Smith hauled in a last second Hail Mary from John Elway for a TD to win the game. Imagine that--your first catch as an NFL receiver happens to be a game winner from a future HOFer!

Well that was only the beginning of what became a glorious Broncos career.

Season

Games

Receptions

Yards

Avg

TD

1995

1

6

152

25.3

1

1996

1

16

237

14.8

2

1997

16

70

1180

16.9

12

1998

16

86

1222

14.2

6

1999

15

79

1020

12.9

4

2000

16

100

1602

16.0

8

2001

14

113

1343

11.9

11

2002

16

89

1027

11.5

5

2003

15

74

845

11.4

3

2004

16

79

1144

14.5

7

2005

16

85

1105

13.0

6

2006

16

52

512

9.8

3

Totals

158

849

11389

13.4

68

Playoffs

Games

Receptions

Yards

Avg

TD

1996

1

1

15

15.0

0

1997

4

11

205

18.6

1

1998

3

12

260

21.7

2

2000

1

3

58

19.3

0

2003

1

5

66

13.2

1

2004

1

7

99

14.1

1

2005

2

10

157

15.3

1

Totals

13

49

860

17.6

6

In his career Rod Smith added 348 yards on 44 carries as well as 647 yards and a TD as a Punt Return. He is still the Denver Broncos all time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and TD's.

Nowadays, true #1's are divas. Me first, team second. Rod Smith never talked, never complained, never put himself above the team. In his twilight years, I remember him as the leader of the team calling out the guys who were selfish and unprofessional as young talent stumbled to mediocre performance after mediocre performance. Rod Smith is a dying breed.

Records and Accolades

- Only UDFA to reach 10,000 receiving yards

- Most catches, yards, and TD receptions amongst UDFA in NFL History

- Broncos All-time leader in yards from scrimmage.

- 6th NFL player to have 100 receptions against at least three teams (Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders)

- First team All Pro (2000, 2001)

- 3 time Pro Bowler (2000-2001, 2005)

- 2 time SB Champion (SB XXXII, SB XXXIII)

- College Football Hall of Fame (2009)

- Denver Broncos Ring of Fame (2012)



Rick Upchurch

Rick Upchurch was another legendary Broncos WR who is the greatest kick and punt returner in Broncos History. He was a 4th round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 1975. Rick was used in a variety of different ways in the Broncos offense as a WR and RB.

Kaptain Kirk wrote a nice article about him on BroncoPlanet, here is an excerpt:

In 1976 (his 2nd year), Rick set an NFL record by returning four punts for Touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl. In 1977, he led the league in Punt Return yardage with 653 and helped the Broncos to their first ever Super Bowl appearance.

He led the NFL in Punt Return average twice (1978 and 1982), and finished his career with 49 carries for 349 rushing yards, 267 receptions for 4,369 yards, 248 punt returns for 3,008 yards, and 95 Kickoff Returns for 2,355 yards. Overall, Upchurch gained 10,081 total yards and scored 35 Touchdowns: 8 on Punt Returns, 24 receiving and 3 rushing. At the time of his retirement, those 8 Punt Return Touchdowns tied the NFL record shared by Jack Christiansen. Upchurch is one of five players to record a career average of over 12 yards per Punt Return.

Career Accomplishments:

- 4 time Pro Bowler (1976, 1978, 1979, 1982)

- 5 time All Pro (1976-1979, 1982)

- Member of the 1970's and 1980's All Decade Teams.

With a guy like Rick Upchurch, many of his probably missed out on watching him play. For those of you that were lucky enough to get to see him play, fantastic! Here are a few videos that show his ability:


Now this one is a full featured NFLN program "Top 10 Return Aces." There is a fantastic 4-minute feature on Rick Upchurch at exactly 17:40. And uh, Gale Sayers, that's some stinging critique from a guy that lucked into the HOF;)


Cool 80 Factoid:

Rick Upchurch dated and was engaged to future Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the 1970's.

Notable Broncos to wear #80:

Rick Upchurch (1975-1983)

Mark Jackson (1986-1992)

Rod Smith (1995-2007)

Current Bronco wearing #80:

Julius Thomas

Read More: Denver Broncos By the Numbers: #80 (Kaptain Kirk)

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