The Carolina Panthers have made a personnel decision today that will surely not make their fans very happy. They have cut possibly the best player to ever wear the black and blue. The Carolina Panthers have said goodbye to their only football legend, wide receiver Steve Smith.
Smith has spent his entire career as an icon for the Panthers. His very first official play in the NFL took place during the opening kickoff of his rookie year. He returned the kick 80 yards in to the end zone and straight in to the hearts of Carolina Fans everywhere. Since then, Smith has been the type of offensive weapon that is rarely seen in the NFL.
Many early skeptics of Steve Smith thought that his size would make him incapable of being a productive NFL receiver. His 5’9 frame that supports a mere 185 pounds is far away from the typical prototype wide out. The knocks against his size allowed him to drop all the way to the third round of the draft. Every team passed on him at least twice in 2001: most have been regretting it ever since. Smith proved to his doubters that size is not all that matters when it comes to being a beast on the field. Though he is not blessed with incredible speed, he is deceptively fast. Excellent route-running and the ability to change directions on a dime has made Smith almost impossible to cover. His knowledge of the route-tree makes him completely unpredictable as well. He’ll burn you deep one play, then come back and dice up the middle on the next. Every time he touches the ball, he has a nose for the end zone, regardless if he’s two yards away or 90.
Smith has been to the Pro Bowl five times in his career. He has also been a member of the All-Pro team three times. These awards, however, are not the most impressive one that he possesses. In the first game of the 2004 season, Smith broke his leg. The injury was so severe, that it forced him to miss the rest of the season. His return in 2005 had many speculating if he would come back as the same player, or if the injury would prevent him from being the quick and agile receiver he once was. Smith responded to these speculations by having the best season of his NFL career. He led the league in all three major receiving categories, with 103 receptions for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. Smith was also awarded the AP Comeback Player of the Year for his amazing season.
In his only Super Bowl appearance, Steve Smith caught four balls for 60 yards and a score. He has registered 51 receptions for 856 yards and eight touchdowns in nine playoff games. He has also added one special teams score along the way. Though several of his catches during the playoffs have been fantastic, none are more memorable than one during the 2003 Super Bowl run. Carolina was playing in St. Louis against the second seeded Rams, who were known at that time as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The two teams battled all the way in to the second overtime quarter. Everyone was holding their breath in the stands, waiting for the Rams to break a big play and win the game. Instead, it was Smith who would shock the crowd with a 69-yard touchdown reception to propel the Panthers in to the NFC Championship game. The ball was not thrown very deep, but Smith was determined to cross the goal line. He made the catch, split the defense, and won the footrace. Smith’s catch against the Rams is arguably the biggest play in Carolina Panthers’ franchise history.
Smith will end his Panther career in the possession of eight franchise receiving records. The most notable being career receiving yards (11,964), receiving touchdowns (66), Receptions (818), and all-purpose yards (12,147). Considering the quality of wide receivers that have played in Carolina other than Smith, his franchise best seven 1,000 yard seasons should be safe for quite a while.
The future for Steve Smith is still very bright. There will be several teams looking to sign a player of such high-caliber. His paycheck is reasonable too. Money was not the issue between Carolina and Smith. He offered to restructure his deal to remain a Panther, but the team just felt it was time to move on. This decision came as a shock to Smith, who had signed a contract extension to stay a Panther until 2016. He had been loyal to the Panthers for his entire career, even after they went 2-14 in 2010 and there were several rumors of him leaving. His desire was to retire having played every game as a Carolina Panther.
The business side of football quickly forgets what the fans do not. Smith has been everything to the offense of the Panthers. He has never played opposite any wide receiver that could draw attention away from him. Though the Panthers had a solid running game for most of his career, it was still rarely enough to free him up from being double-teamed. Yet Smith still put up Hall of Fame numbers. Whatever team signs him next will not be looking to him as a number one wide receiver. For the first time in his career, Smith may not be the best offensive threat on the field. Under those conditions, expect him to shine for at least a few more years.
So, while the Panther organization attempts to move on without Steve Smith for the first time in over a decade, Carolina fans everywhere will mourn the loss of such a fantastic player and person. Smith made sure Panther fans knew how he felt, wishing them nothing but the best and confirming that he will always be a Panther at heart. This may help some fans cope with the loss of Smith, but it will not change the fact that the Carolina Panthers have said goodbye to a football legend.
Commentary by Chris Chisam