Following the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, Dennis Smith spoke softly and carried a big stick when he played for the Denver Broncos. Off the field, he was quiet and reserved. But on the field, Smith made sure any offensive player who roamed in his path paid a painful price.
Smith’s reputation as a punishing tackler resulted in his being selected to the Pro Bowl six times during his 14 seasons in the NFL — all with the Broncos. His first Pro Bowl selection was in 1985, and he was voted to represent the American Football Conference at the game in 1986, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993. In addition to his Pro Bowl honors, Smith was named All-NFL four times.
The University of Southern California’s football program is noted for producing ferocious-hitting defensive backs through the years, and Smith was no exception when he played for the school. He was Denver’s first-round selection in the 1981 NFL draft, the 15th player selected overall. By the time his career ended in 1994 Smith had 30 interceptions and 170 starts. He played in 184 games – which ranks fifth on the Broncos’ all-time list.
Of all the games Smith played, none may have been as memorable as the one at Mile High Stadium on Nov. 17, 1985. In that game, Smith collaborated with cornerback Louis Wright for one of the wackiest sequences of events in Broncos history.
Denver was tied with the San Diego Chargers 24-24 in overtime. The Chargers’ Bob Thomas lined up to kick the game-winning field goal, and it appeared that Smith blocked the attempt and Wright recovered. However, the play didn’t count because Denver had called a timeout. The Chargers, thanks to the mulligan, lined up for another try. This time, Thomas’ kick deflected off Smith’s arm. Wright grabbed the ball and raced 60 yards to score the game-winning touchdown for Denver.
“It’s the most bizarre game I’ve ever played in,” Smith told reporters afterward.
When the Broncos opened training camp in 1994, Smith was at home without a contract. It appeared that his 13-year career with the team was over, but after an 0-3 start owner Pat Bowlen realized his club missed Smith’s locker room leadership, not to mention his intimidating presence in the Broncos’ secondary.
On Dec. 24, 1994, Smith walked off the field at Mile High Stadium for the final time as a player knowing that he had left his mark on the game. He and Karl Mecklenburg were elected to the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 2000. Even though most of their pro football memories were made at Mile High Stadium, the club held the official induction ceremony the following year at the new Invesco Field at Mile High on Sept. 30, 2001.
Teddy Roosevelt also said that success — the real success — does not depend upon the position you hold but upon how you carry yourself in that position. For 14 years Denver Broncos safety Dennis Smith carried himself like the ultimate professional.
Dennis Smith spoke softly and carried a big stick when he played for the Denver Broncos.