The life of an NFL football player can be a roller coaster. There are some that get to stay on the ride for a short time, as they don’t make it through training camp. And there are those that stay on the ride a little bit too long and wear it out. Somewhere in between those two extremes is the player that plays for a long time but goes out on their own. Many players do not get this opportunity and others miss their chance to exit gracefully. Well, one player that many have watched for a while in the NFL has decided to hang it up after this season. Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith has decided to call it a career after the 2015 season. The 36 year old receiver out of the University of Utah has decided that it’s his time to step aside and make way for someone new. But he will leave the game with as a figure that many loved to watch play even if you weren’t a fan of the team he played for. He will definitely leave it all on the field and walk away with his head held high after what all he accomplished. After all, he did it against the odds.
Smith was first drafted in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft. Standing at a diminutive 5’9”, many believed he would only be a slot receiver at best. But no one told Steve Smith that he was only supposed to be a slot receiver. Smith struggled in his first year, only starting one game while making ten receptions for 164 yards. But after that year, he began to get it going and became a fixture for the Carolina Panthers. In his 13 seasons in Carolina, Smith has had seven 1,000 yard seasons. And the amazing thing about all of his production there over the years: he was the only consistent wide receiver they have had. Smith constantly went and fought double-coverage week in and week out. And despite the attention he received, he was still able to be that force in the Carolina Panthers organization. He was feisty and sometimes went a little over the edge with his antics, but he was the best force the Panthers had on their team. The biggest thing he can say from being with the Panthers organization is that he has seen the worst and the best of times there. And when he left, he was leaving a team that was finding its stride again. He left amidst some outrage from the Carolina Panthers fans and NFL fans as a whole. He gave everything and then some to the team that gave him a shot to make a name. And he deserved more than a trade because his contract was at a number the team did not want to pay him. The even sadder part of the trade of Steve Smith is that he would have at least talked about taking a paycut if the team would have discussed it with him. But alas, they decided not to and it was time for him to move on. But even though Smith isn’t there, he will forever have an imprint on the organization he used to call home.
When he landed in Baltimore, there were some questions about Steve Smith. Some privately and others publicly wondered if he could still get it done on the field. Well, that question was quickly answered when Steve Smith went out and got three 100 yard receiving games in his first four with his new team. The explosion was still there and so was the attitude and desire for the game. Of course sometimes his attitude boiled over just like it did in Carolina. But it was easy for teams to get behind a guy like that. A guy that played with a permanent chip on his shoulder. He was their best receiver last season at his age, despite having a younger speed demon in Torrey Smith on the opposite side of him. Smith bolted for the San Francisco 49ers this offseason and it has now left Steve in the same positon he has been in many times before in Carolina. He is again the lone wolf on the outside fighting against the odds. Most probably would not take the odds Steve Smith has been given this upcoming season. But Steve Smith has been fighting battles like this his entire career and winning.
The end is near for Steve Smith as he gets ready to write his final chapter. Some may not know what to expect, but if you look over his entire career, he will more than likely bring more of the same. Look for the passion he plays the game with to be at an all-time high. He has called this one his last ride, so why not go out with a bang and leave it all on the field? Smith may not be a Hall Of Famer, but he will definitely go down as one of the toughest pound-for-pound wide receivers that has ever played. And his toughness was not just physical. He mentally beat the odds that many laid out there for him and became one of the most underrated receivers to play the game in the last 15 years.