It’s been an interesting off-season for Steve Smith to say the least. After rumors spread last month at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Panthers could cut ties with their former All-Pro receiver, it became a reality this past Thursday when Smith was released from the team. Shortly after the news went public, a video surfaced on YouTube displaying a young Carolina Panthers fan devastated by Smith’s departure. The video, entitled “Gavin gets emotional about Steve Smith”, showcased a distraught young boy breaking into tears as his father told him the news–a reaction probably shared by many other Panthers faithful. And why not cry? After all, for passionate fans like Gavin, Smith has always been the quintessential Panther.
But it is not a one way love affair. As it turns out Smith saw the video with Gavin and said “It touched me a little bit,” during a radio interview with ESPN’s “Mike & Mike”. Smith then revealed that this wasn’t the first time he had encountered Gavin. “I actually met Gavin three or four years ago,” Smith said. Then added, “Our kids actually interacted a few times. He also knows me as Boston’s dad…our youngest.” But Smith didn’t stop at just an acknowledgment of Gavin, he later took to Twitter asking followers if they could assist him in finding young Gavin. Several hours later, Smith confirmed via Twitter that he had been in contact with Gavin’s dad and thanked everyone who had helped. At least one Carolina Panthers fan devastated by the news of Smith’s departure could be feeling a lot better soon. For others, it may take a lot longer to fill the giant hole left in the All-Pro’s absence.
For 13 seasons Steve Smith brought intensity, passion, and big play ability to Carolina. Many players have come and gone in the past decade but he has always been the constant force for fans to embrace, through good and bad. He is not the picture perfect role model, nor does he try to be, in fact one might say he is the NFL version of an anti-hero–brash, feisty and uncensored–but he was Carolina’s anti-hero and Panthers fans loved him dearly. Some may have even held a glimmer of hope that he may return at a lower price, but now that he has signed a three year contract with the Baltimore Ravens they have no choice but to miss him dearly and try to move on.
How they’ll move on, however, is anyone’s guess. The franchise will try to find a replacement through free agency or via the draft, though it may not be that simple to find a player of Smith’s caliber so quickly. The Panthers fan base will probably try to put their faith in other players on the roster but it will probably take some time for them to get used to life after Steve Smith.
What is football in Charlotte going to be like without Smith? Only time will tell. If the Panthers can find success then the loss of the scrappy 5’9″ receiver might be easier to stomach come next fall. But, if a losing season is on the horizon then more videos with Gavin or any other Carolina Panthers fan devastated by Smith’s departure might start popping up around the internet.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky