Veteran receivers succeed sans flash

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Oct 14, 2005


SAN DIEGO---- Neither of these 35-year-old marvels is a household name outside of the cities in which they have played. Neither has been featured on the cover of a video game or cereal box. And, most certainly, neither has used a pylon as a putter.

Instead, for more than a decade, all the Denver Broncos' Rod Smith and the Chargers' Keenan McCardell have done is perform consistently at the wide receiver position.

The game Saturday between the Broncos and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium carries no meaning in terms of playoff implications, but it is a showcase of two of the NFL's most overlooked ---- and productive ---- elder statesman.

"We're not very flamboyant about the way we go out and do our game," said McCardell. "But at the end of the day, the numbers speak for themselves."

They have cranked out numbers that are eerily similar while climbing the charts ever so quietly.

McCardell is tied for 10th on the all-time receptions list with Steve Largent at 819, only 23 more than Smith, who sits at No 15.

Smith's 10,866 career receiving yards put him 16th all-time, just 237 ahead of McCardell, who's 19th.

Smith has 65 receiving touchdowns, McCardell 62.

Smith may fly under the radar of many who follow the league, but he's very much on the screen of Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards. Edwards, who started his career with the Chiefs, has been a division rival of Smith's since 1996 and calls the receiver one of the hardest-working players he's known.

He also understands Smith's virtual anonymity.

"He's not a really flashy guy, and unfortunately, this league has turned into ---- there's a lot of good players out there, but what sells is flash," Edwards said. "Chad Johnson is flash with all these little antics that he does, and T.O. and all the antics that he does.

"And it's guys like Curtis Martin and Rod Smith that don't do a lot of antics."

Much like McCardell?

"Keenan's another guy," Edwards added. "They're very, very similar players ---- playmaking guys who aren't flashy but just get it done year in and year out."

Smith and McCardell both keep plugging along despite having reached an age where many receivers start to drop off.

McCardell, who turns 36 in eight days and is under contract for two more seasons, has set a career high with nine touchdown receptions to go with his 64 catches for 866 yards. Smith has 84 receptions for 1,094 yards ---- his eighth 1,000-yard season in nine years.

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer credits intelligence as the key to the longevity of the two ageless wonders. He said the recent advent of the controlled passing game has allowed players with the knowledge of how to maneuver, get open and find the quarterback's eyes.

"We understand this game," McCardell said.

Both players are also known for their work ethic, and that should come as no surprise considering their similar background.

McCardell was a 12th-round draft pick; Smith was an undrafted free agent. Both started their careers in the league as practice squad players.

"It's just a different way to get to the prize," McCardell said. "(Flashier receivers) went the way where the road was all lit up, stars, cameras. We probably took the wooded route, through the trees where no one else thought to go."

CHARGERS NOTES ---- Coach Marty Schottenheimer listed DT Jamal Williams (sprained foot) as questionable. Williams didn't work on Wednesday but said emphatically he would be fit to play against the Broncos on Saturday. ... With Terrence Kiel (ankle) already out, fellow S Bhawoh Jue (knee) is looking less likely to play. Jue was held out of practice for the second time this week, and Schottenheimer didn't sound optimistic about a speedy recovery. Clinton Hart and Jerry Wilson are the likely replacements. ... WR Eric Parker (foot) returned to practice.