Loeffler's Link

Pete Adkins and Rod Smith stand next to Adkins' bust after the former Jefferson City Jays football coach was named a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Legend in 2013. Smith, the KRCG Sports Director, is now also a member of the Hall of Fame after his induction Sunday night in Springfield.

JJan. 27, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- You can't say Rod Smith won't play with pain.

To put it another way ... players may play hurt, but they don't play injured.

Well, Mr. Smith does both.

It was Nov. 2, the first half of the Blair Oaks-Father Tolton district football game when this moment of painful distinction happened.

"(The teams) had already scored a bunch of points," Smith said, "and they were getting ready to score again and I was near the goal line."

Crash!

"I just got totally blindsided by two Blair Oaks defensive backs and one receiver from Father Tolton," Smith said. "They just drilled me on the sidelines --- but I do say that it took three to get me down.

"In my 34 years of covering football games, I figured I'd been on the sidelines for about 1,000 games when you add high school, college and even a few pro games. And I'd never gotten hit, but they really did a number there."

Smith suffered a broken tibia in his right leg, along with a torn MCL and a partial tear of the ACL.

"At the time, I didn't know it, nor did the Blair Oaks trainer or the doctor who came by later," Smith said. "I knew something was wrong and it hurt, but the pain wasn't excruciating. But I could not stand up, my leg would not hold me up.

"While I was sitting there waiting for Dr. (Timothy) Galbraith to get there --- he was about three minutes away from the stadium --- I picked up my camera to see if it would still work, just out of curiosity. It was a little bent, it had some issues, but by golly, it still worked.

"And I noticed that Blair Oaks was driving and getting ready to score again. So I shot another touchdown while I was sitting on my rear end."

Performed like a true Hall of Famer, even though Smith wasn't one.

But he is now.

Smith, 56, the KRCG Sports Director, was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies Sunday night in Springfield. Family and friends joined him for the occasion, including one of only 25 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Legends, Pete Adkins.

Smith found out the news in early December.

"Jerald Andrews, he's executive director of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, called me up," Smith said. "We've worked on different projects together over the years, and I've played in some of their Hall of Fame golf tournaments, and so forth. So I just figured he was calling about something like that.

"But instead, he said he had some really good news for me, that I was going to be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. My first reaction was that maybe he felt really sorry for me because of my broken leg."

Broken leg, but not a broken sense of humor.

"I was really surprised," Smith continued." You know, you see athletes go into the Hall of Fame, but you don't really expect it for sportscasters and sportswriters."

Here's another moment Smith will never forget. This one came on Nov. 15 at Helias.

"It was my first time out after breaking my leg, it was their Jamboree," Smith said. "I just had to get out of the house and do something."

Helias had the red carpet out for him ... not to mention the orange cones.

"People have been so good to me since it happened, like at Helias --- they set out cones for me so I could have the prime parking spot," Smith said. "They'd meet me at the side door (of Rackers Fieldhouse) and let me in, then they had a seat reserved for me so I could sit in the front row and shoot video.

"So I walk in there about two minutes before they were going to start the scrimmages. Then they make an announcement: 'We at Helias would just like to thank Rod Smith for all of his coverage!'"

Standing ovation.

"I had no idea they were going to do something like that," Smith said. "It was pretty nice."

Just like the man. Whoever said nice guys finish last never met Rod Smith.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

ROD'S WIFE OF 31 YEARS, LANA, was as important as any doctor during the days and weeks after the injury.

"She was absolutely wonderful," Rod said. "I never could have made it without her. I'd never been in a situation like this where I needed someone, now I know when people go through something like this, you need a good caregiver.

"There's no way I would have made it without her."

Touching. But there's also this, when Rod finally left the house that evening to go to Helias ...

"She was very glad to get me out of the house," Smith said with a laugh.

The couple has three daughters, Brittany, 28, Brooke, 26 and Paige, 21.

"That's always been my priority, my daughters and my family," Rod said. "People don't know it, but there were many, many days I worked my work schedule around so I could be at my kids' events."

He coached all three in softball and basketball, and watched all three play "about every sport."

It paid off.

"All three played sports in high school and all three got college scholarships (Brittany in golf, Brooke and Paige in tennis)," Rod said

Rod and Lana didn't just go to Duensing Field, a local court or an area golf course for their daughters' sporting events. Hardly.

"My gosh, we got to take so many neat trips following Brittany play golf (for Lincoln)," Rod said. "She played in Florida, Arizona and Texas ... all over the country."

Dad became a very weary traveler.

"I would often times cover a Mizzou game on Saturday," he said, "then get in the car and drive to her tournament and watch her practice round and tournament."

College tournaments are usually held Monday and Tuesday, with Sunday being the practice round.

"I'd take Monday off because I worked on Saturday, then I'd drive back after Tuesday's round," Rod said. "Tony (Mullen) and our other sports guys would have everything ready for me for the 10 ... sometimes I wouldn't pull into the station until 9:30.

"I'd go on the set and everybody thought I'd been working all day, and I'd been watching Brittany play golf."

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

YOU MIGHT THINK SPORTS BROADCASTING was a dream of Smith's from an early age. You can just picture it, can't you? A little 5 or 6 year-old Rod, with a head full of fiery red hair, sitting on the floor watching the game of the week and reporting on it.

Nice visual, but it wasn't the case. Instead, he was old enough to drive, shave and vote when he made the decision.

"I didn't think about it seriously until I was in college," he said. "But I always enjoyed sports growing up, my dad taught me every sport there is."

Smith played baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, and even hockey growing up in Naperville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

"My dad even built an ice rink, so we played hockey in my back yard all winter," Smith said. "At the time, the rink seemed pretty big but as I look back, I suppose it wasn't that big. But it was awesome ... my dad's an engineer and he had it all figured out."

Rod's now an accomplished golfer, far above average. This works out quite well, because there's one thing he loves about his job almost more than anything else --- free golf.

"It's absolutely one of the best perks of the job, to be able to represent KRCG and the Naught-Naught Agency, and play in around 15 charity tournaments a year," he said. "That's where I've built a lot of great relationships.

"But I'm really worried about my golf swing now, with my broken leg. I'm really hoping I can still play well."

Don't worry, he can and he will.

When it came to landing a job after graduating from Oral Roberts University in 1985, Jefferson City was not exactly starred on his map, with a bunch of circles around it and arrows pointing to it.

"The only reason I knew about Jefferson City was that it was kind of halfway between my home near Chicago and where I went to college in Tulsa," he said. "That was the quickest way to go."

During spring break before graduation, Smith applied at 10 stations between Tulsa and Chicago. Only one was interested.

"I got one offer, KRCG," he said, "and I took it."

He did both sports and weather on weekends his first few years at the station. "I'd do the weather, make up some temperatures, and we'd go to commercial break," Smith said. "Then, we'd come back to the set and I'm doing sports."

At the time, KRCG was certainly not his destination job.

"Absolutely not," Smith said. "Like most people in my business, you get a year or two experience and move on and up. I fully expected that would be the case."

But then, something happened --- love. He met Lana at church, Capital City Christian Church, where they're still members.

"I was just visiting churches," Rod said, "and a lot of the men of the church I met said: 'You've got to meet this Lana girl.' A couple years later, we were married.

"We ended up building a house here and raising a family here."

And covering sporting events from New Bloomfield to New Orleans to San Jose, Calif. Does he have a favorite? Yes, all of them.

We'll start with the biggest.

"Just the magnitude of it, going to two Super Bowls," Smith said, "and being on the field when Mike Jones --- who I covered at Mizzou and later as Lincoln's football coach --- made The Tackle literally 20 yards away from where I was on the field (to finish the St. Louis Rams' win over Tennessee in Atlanta in 2000).

"Then of course, we went to New Orleans the next year when the Rams lost to the Patriots. That was the beginning of the dynasty ... who was Tom Brady at that time? A nobody. But we were there when the (Bill) Belichick and Brady Era started."

(Believe it or not, it's still going strong, as you might have heard.)

Smith's also covered several World Series and NCAA Tournaments, along with Missouri bowl games and SEC championship football games.

"The big events are all great," he said, "but really, I love covering our local kids and our local schools just as much.

"The great thing about sports is that we go from season to season. I love covering football and when it's over, I'm ready to go inside, get out of the cold and cover basketball and wrestling.

"And baseball and the other spring sports are the same way --- when basketball is over, I'm ready to go back outside."

Make no doubt, Smith stays busy when he's not at a local field or court, and he's often wearing a tuxedo. Last year alone, he emceed no less than 35 of the area's fund-raising events.

"I do have to say no sometimes," he said, "but I don't find it easy to do. The crazy thing is, which one is the most important to me? The next one I'm doing, because there are so many good organizations and so many good charities here in mid-Missouri."

Rod is definitely a people person, because he's seemingly friends with every person in the world who has a Facebook account.

"I absolutely love the relationships with all of the families and coaches and players that I've built, at all the different variety of schools," Smith said. "They may be rivals on the court, but I enjoy relationships on all the teams and all the sports. I can be a supporter of all the teams.

"Sports is a great thing, it really brings people together and I've met some incredible people. I have more friends than I ever thought I'd have and more than I ever deserved."

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

HIS COUNTLESS FRIENDSHIPS PAID BIG DIVIDENDS in 2008, when Smith was shockingly fired during the nation's recession. The ensuing tsunami of support and criticism aimed at the station's new ownership group, however, resulted in Smith getting his job back.

"It was absolutely humbling and probably the most rewarding thing that ever happened to me in my professional life, until this Hall of Fame honor," Smith said. "To see this community pull together, it's something that just doesn't happen in my business or most any business."

How much longer does he plan to stay in the business? Good news, sports fans, Smith hopes to stick around until he's 65.

"I still have one daughter in college," he said, "so I need to work a little longer to get her through. And I still enjoy most parts of my job --- there are some things I could do without, the stress level, the pressure --- and at some point, I'll step away and let somebody else do this.

"But at this point, I still enjoy going to work because every day is different. You never know exactly how the day is going to end up, you start in one direction and then something happens, and all of a sudden the stories are different.

"But if I break another leg," he concluded, "I'll be done a lot sooner than that."

The next time you see your friend, Rod, whatever you do, don't tell him to break a leg.

But do tell him congratulations.

Nice guys don't always finish
last: Smith inducted into Hall

Chris Leuckel