I don't pretend to know how it feels to be Steve Smith. My 5'9" height coupled with a frame an online dating profile would refer to as 'more of me to love' places me out of the range that can run a sub-5.0 forty. I can't even imagine the following conversation taking place:
"James, we love your work and would like to keep you around here another 3-4 years. How does $18 million sound?"
What I can envision is preparing for that press conference; heading out to a vintage store, buying a great suit and doing my best to sit in front of 15 microphones looking like Don Draper. Yet, while I would dress to the nines, Smitty appeared in Charlotte today dressed to the 89's- a simple hat and Gremlin's shirt combo that lets everyone know you're a wee bit different.
That's what we love about Steve Smith, and that's what 31 other fan-base's don't understand. Looking through the teammate punching and petulant antics, we see a player who is typecast around the NFL as a malcontent, when we know he's just... a wee bit different. When Smitty distills his decision to stay in Carolina to one simple statement, we take notice:
"Happy wife, happy life"
For a player who by his own admission arrived in Carolina 'a boy' he's truly become a man- he gets it.
More after the jump
Last year was rough for Smith, and in turn fans. He was asked to buy in to a new coaching staff after being hamstrung for the better part of a decade by an offense that never really let him showcase his ability; Smith excelled in spite of John Fox's offense, not because of it. So when Ron Rivera, another hard-nosed defensive coach enters the picture with every analyst and their brother screaming that the Panthers need a DT, and let Jimmy Clausen develop, I can understand why Smith had reached the end of his rope. Then something happened:
"We won the lottery"
Except this time Smith wasn't talking about his $18 million windfall, but a metaphysical one- the 2-14 season that bought the ticket that became Cam Newton. Along with Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski the passion for football was once again ignited in #89. In twelve short months we've gone from seeing a player who wanted out of Carolina, to one who is looking to 'set his roots'.
You don't often hear someone remaining in one spot for over a decade without 'setting their roots', but such is the enigma of Steve Smith. We knew him as a player who was always mercurial, always in flux- now he's found his stride and ready to accept this stage in his career. Smith wants to do as much as he possibly can, with the time in the NFL he has left; time which is all too fleeting given it took ten seasons since drafting him to find a franchise QB.
Cam has been Carolina's deus ex machina, so many seemingly insurmountable problems were solved with one pick. Galvanizing fans, the organization and the community alike, he's solidified the long term future of the franchise with his arrival. I don't pretend to know what the future holds for Cam Newton, Steve Smith or the Carolina Panthers, but I do know we need to add two more bullet-points to our list of 'rules and regulations': Don't get Smitty wet, and don't feed him after midnight. For a player with a razor sharp wit, don't think the irony of wearing a shirt emblazoned with a character who becomes a little monster when subjected to negative stimuli is lost on him.
Maybe the gremlin we've known for the better part of a decade is gone, now replaced with the affable Gizmo- always looking to help, always chipper. Ultimately, isn't this just a part of growing up?