Beyond the Bison: “Remember When”

Julian Dorey , Sports Editor

Steve Smith was the greatest Carolina Panther ever. For years, he terrorized corners with his deceptive strength—and he punished every safety who ever dared to cheat up to the line of scrimmage.

Through thick and thin, winning or losing, Smith was the only constant. Nearly 850 receptions and 12,000 receiving yards after Smith wrote his book in Carolina, the Panthers summarily ended it by cutting Smith in March. Why? It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now.

The team was coming off its best season in over five years and Smith had been the rock supporting young quarterback Cam Newton’s development. As a competitor, Smith never brought anything less than the most fire to a game—and as a player, his abilities were still clearly there.

Moreover, the Panthers had no other receivers. Literally nothing. Nada. They spent a first round pick on Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin, but he wasn’t even one of the first four receivers taken in his own draft. Honestly, he has been decent for the Panthers thus far, but the pressure on him is a little too much, too soon. And now the Panthers are living to regret their mistake in every way.

This past weekend, Smith and his new team, the Baltimore Ravens, punished the Panthers’ vaunted defense as Smith lit up his former teammates for 139 yards and two touchdowns. His emotions were running wild (he was as stunned as the rest of us when the Panthers unloaded him to free agency)—and the grim look on Panthers coach Ron Rivera’s face told us all we needed to know about the instant regret he has over this decision.

It all comes back to the old adage that you don’t mess with karma. Smith has never professed to be a perfect individual. He had his times when his emotions ran a little too high on the field. But he was the epitome of consistency, hunger, and full effort. He was a highly-influential community activist in Charlotte, and his off the field criminal record is as blank as a white slate. And he was the only Panthers wide receiver actually producing last season at age 34. What am I missing here?

This was nothing but a typical alpha-male, old-football mind, my-boots-are-bigger-than-yours move of arrogance. The Panthers did not like the weight Smith and his opinions held in the city, they envied his fame, and they disliked his willingness to tell it like it is. So they cut him.

“Sorry, Steve, but thanks for the memories. Now hit the road,” they said. So he did. He went to Baltimore. And now who’s laughing?

Karma’s a #$%@.

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