Steve Smith ready to return home for hyped matchup with Panthers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Back in March, a newly released and obviously upset Steve Smith warned of the day when he lined up against his former team the Carolina Panthers. As the veteran receiver so eloquently put it: "Put your goggles on, because there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere."
Well, that time has come as his new team, the Baltimore Ravens, will play host to the Panthers on Sunday. And as a result, Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams met with the media on Thursday in a huge pair of ski goggles.
But to Smith, it’s no joke. This game will have special meaning for him after having spent a sometimes spectacular and tumultuous 13-year career in Charlotte.
"I don’t think it’s any other game," Smith said. "I never really imagined I would be in a different uniform. I never really thought that I would be playing against the Panthers. Now, I am."
When asked earlier this week if he ever got an answer as to why he was released, Smith uncharacteristically avoided answering somewhat, except to say that he wasn’t happy about it.
"I really don’t want to dive into that," he said. "Unless you hate your job, nobody ever walks out and says, ‘Yay, I just got fired.’"
The one thing that has carried the undersized Smith, who is listed at a generous 5-foot-9, throughout his entire career is the proverbial chip on his shoulder. He’s as feisty as they come and is usually the first to get into a scuffle during the game. He plays with passion and he plays angry.
During the preseason, Smith said that is exactly how the Ravens play and how that factored into his decision.
"That attitude fits me," he said. "I was told to be myself, so that’s what I’ve been. I’ve been myself. And I enjoy being myself. Everybody else is taken, so I just got to be myself. And I enjoy being myself. I’m comfortable being in my skin.
"I am the person that God made me, and when I’m not on your team, other fans and other people don’t like me, but when I’m on your team, people enjoy me."
While that last statement is mostly true, Smith has had his issues. He’s been involved in confrontations with teammates — punching one and receiving a suspension — and has been a distraction at times. There were even reports that the main reason Smith was let go by Carolina is because he and Newton didn’t get along and that he was constantly badgering the young quarterback.
Newton said he has no issues with Smith and that he fully expects his former teammate to play Sunday just as he has throughout this career.
"An everyday chip-on-his-shoulder attitude," Newton said. "I don’t even know if there’s a word to describe it, but everybody who has ever followed the Carolina Panthers knows what I’m talking about. Whether it was something as simple as a screen pass or a 90-yard touchdown pass, Steve was going to put his all into it."
Smith is currently ninth in the NFL in receiving yards with 290 yards on 18 receptions. He also has a touchdown. Not bad for somebody that was supposed to be the No. 2 receiver behind Torrey Smith.
"When I see him, no matter if it’s watching old film of him with Carolina or watching new film of him in Baltimore, I’m always excited to see if he’s still got that spark," Newton said. "And I can see he does."
And while, yes, Smith wants to do everything in his power to make sure he makes a statement to the Panthers by having a big game against them, he also added that he has friends on the roster and that he can’t wait to head back home.
"Thirteen years, I miss everything about Carolina," he said. "I miss being at home. I miss my friends, guys that I’ve grown with and they’ve grown. But also understand it’s a business, and sometimes in business you’ve got to temporarily go somewhere else. I’ve said, and I’ll continue to say it, I appreciated the opportunity that (Carolina owner) Mr. (Jerry) Richardson game me to see the world, to change my family’s legacy as far as where I grew up from back home in L.A., and how we grew up.
"Carolina is my home and it’ll always be my home."