When it’s all said and done, Steve Smith will end his career as the best wide receiver – and arguably best player – to ever wear a Carolina Panthers uniform.
We now have a good idea of when that will be.
Early this week, the 33-year-old Smith said that he would like to play “three or four more years” before hanging up the cleats and devoting himself to being a full-time father to his 14-year-old son, Peyton.
”In four years it gives me an opportunity to hang up my cleats and now I become a cheerleader,” Smith said to The Associated Press. “Now it’s `Hey, c’mon honey, we have to hurry up and travel to Peyton’s games.’ I’m looking forward to that. It’s no longer about me at that point. It’s about him.”
However, while Smith certainly has a lot of miles on his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame, the fiery veteran still has plenty of pep in his step. The former third-round pick out of Utah had one of the best seasons of his 11-year NFL career in 2011, hauling in 79 passes for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. These Pro Bowl numbers wouldn’t have been possible without the arrival of Cam Newton, who developed an early rapport with Smith and consistently connected with No. 89 on long passes down the field.
Many pro athletes approaching the twilight of their careers can be guilty of “hanging on too long” or “refusing to go out on top,” but Smith – despite still being healthy and highly productive – has already come to terms with his inevitable exit from the game.
”I will be prepared and be ready to take the back seat when the time comes,” Smith said. “The hardest thing for an older guy is to be prepared and be ready to pass the torch. Naturally it happens. And to be able to do that, I think a lot of older players struggle with it. I’ve seen it.”
Smith’s wisdom, experience and leadership will be valuable to a young, talented Panthers team hoping to make a run at a Lombardi Trophy.
After all, he knows how few and far between a deep playoff run can be.
In 2003, Smith and the Panthers made a run to the Super Bowl, battling the New England Patriots down to the wire before ultimately losing 32-29 on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal. Since then, the Panthers have only won two playoff games – both in 2005.
The good news is that, for Smith, the best part of his career may have been saved for last. Arguably the most talented group of players in the team’s 17-year history, the current Carolina Panthers may have the best chance at delivering Smitty that Super Bowl ring that’s eluded him for more than a decade.
Now that would be going out on top.
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