Steve Smith is one of those players that you either love or you hate; there’s really little gray area. At the end of the day, I never really rooted for him. I don’t care much for the Carolina Panthers, where he made his name and put up his biggest numbers. I didn’t like it when he torched and bullied then-Pats cornerback Aqib Talib during the game and in the press. When he moved on to Baltimore to become the Ravens’ next number one receiver, it really didn’t help me like him any more.
But at the end of the day, if Steve Smith played for my team, I would be absolutely ecstatic. He’s quite naturally an underdog- you never expect a receiver below six feet to be much of anything outside of a weapon in the slot in the NFL. Originally a player at Santa Monica College with Chad Johnson, Smith worked his way up to playing for Utah, a Division I program. Not yet the formidable PAC-12 team they are now, he absolutely killed the Mountain West Conference, landing on the All-Conference First Team twice.
But size held him back… to an extent. He fell to the third round where the Carolina Panthers drafted him. From there, the rest is history. He started as a special teams guru- returning punts and kicks with ease. He leads Carolina in career touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards. In 2005, he won the ‘Triple Crown’, when he led the league in all three of the major receiving categories. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All Pro.
His career with the Panthers ended in March 2014, when they no longer had him in their plans moving forward. He brought his talents to Baltimore, notorious for tough players who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. He was the perfect Raven, and he has been a steady target for them for the last two seasons.
His physical style of play definitely leads to injuries; only five times in his fifteen seasons has he played in all 16 games. But aside from 2004 season when he broke his leg, he has always appeared in at least 14 games. He is the type to play through injuries and he will leave it all on the field. Hell, he broke some vertebrae in Baltimore’s game in Pittsburgh just this season, but it didn’t stop him from getting back in the game (albeit briefly).
He announced that this would be his last year before the season started. Smith has never won a Super Bowl, and has only been to the big dance one, in 2003. But his season, and almost definitely his career, came to a screeching halt Sunday when he tore his Achilles. I don’t think that’s how Smith envisioned his career ending, and I won’t rule out him attempting a comeback. But the chances of it being successful are slim, especially at the football-ancient age of 36.
Like I said, he never played for a team I liked. But I loved Smith’s swagger and his confidence. He could talk trash with the best of them, and he always backed it up. But he wasn’t a prima donna receiver like a lot of the ones that dominated the era he played in. Smith would block, and he’d go over the middle. He’d try to juke you, but he would also try to run your ass over. And he didn’t care if you didn’t like it. Personally, I love that. He was the unquestioned toughest receiver in the league, and the NFL will surely miss him (even if they won’t admit it).