Whether you believe a different player deserved the title or if you were a vocal proponent of Steve Smith since the first round of our voting I think everyone agrees that WR Steve Smith was going to be at least in the top four players of all time. Now, with the votes tabulated and the competition it's Smitty who has risen to the top of the heap to be recognized.
I felt that it was rather apropos to hold this kind of vote now as we move into a new era of Carolina Panthers' football. Speaking scientifically an era can represent millions of years, in music an era lasts around a decade but when it comes to sports, particularly football, an era seems to be inexorably linked to a head coach. In this way we have seen a true end of an era. Players like the aforementioned Smith, along with Jake Delhomme, Stephen Davis, Jordan Gross, Mike Rucker, Jon Beason, DeAngelo Williams and Julius Peppers all cut their teeth in the 'John Fox era'. In the case of Beason and Gross they will span two eras, while Smith and Williams are undecided.
More after the jump
The most amazing thing about a vote like this is that you just never know where a 'franchise great' can come from. Look at our final four:
- Steve Smith: 3rd round draft pick
- Jake Delhomme: Undrafted, signed as free agent
- Sam Mills: Undrafted, signed as free agent
- John Kasay: 4th round pick, signed as free agent
The fact is, a 'greatest' player can come from anywhere, and when you least expect it. Nobody saw Steve Smith as having the potential to be a Triple Crown winning WR, or someone would have taken him in the first 73 picks of the 2001 draft. It would be nice to sit here and say with certainty that Cam Newton will be the next in line, but honestly maybe it will be Brandon Hogan who sets the NFL on fire and become a greatest ever? For this reason alone football remains king because we have such a propensity for players to get overlooked when scouted only to outplay any preconceived notion of how good they could be.
I'd be remiss if I didn't spend some more time talking about Steve Smith and what he means to the Carolina Panthers and their fan base. Before there was Wes Welker there was Steve Smith. In the last decade Smitty redefined what an NFL receiver could be in terms of his stature. Relying on athleticism, strength and heart rather than size, this makes him stand taller than almost every WR in the same time span. The warning signs when Smitty is upset don't happen when he's shouting, but rather when he's quiet; it's when he clams up that it means something is very wrong. This alone tells you almost everything you need to know about his demeanor.
On the field he's a larger than life character. Whether he's issuing the 'Rules and Regulations' of the game, or snapping his imaginary suspenders Smitty plays football in a child-like way, deriving the same joy from catching a big pass as kids do as they avoid parked cars in the street. This enthusiasm is absolutely infectious, and it's without a doubt he is a bonafide fan favorite. This is why these last few months have been difficult, wondering if we'll see Smitty catch a pass in a Panthers' jersey again; pondering how long it will be before we see another receiver catch a bubble screen and take it for 60 yards in that way he could so aptly.
Steve Smith is the greatest Panther of all time. Over the last 10 years he's not always kept himself out of the headlines, but he's always kept the Panthers as relevant as they could be. A hard working, no nonsense, chip on his shoulder, blue collar family man who is an inspiration throughout the Carolinas. I'm not in the position to show these words to Smitty, but if someone out there is then please, I implore you to let him know how much he means to this fan base.