The vast majority of the people on this site's NFL fandom lived long before the existence of professional football in the Carolinas. You lived through the excitement of the league granting Charlotte its 31st franchise in 1987, the first games in Death Valley in 1995, the Rae Carruth saga -- many of you may still own a Biakbatuka jersey withering away in the back of your closet. Perhaps, you were tuned in to the 2001 Draft when Bill Polian spent a 3rd round selection on Steve Smith, a punt returner out of The University of Utah who lacked the size to play receiver in the National Football League.
Steve Smith's arrival came as a pleasant surprise to you; eventually he became your favorite player. At times, he was the only reason you tuned in to FOX on Sundays. Never ceasing to amaze, never relinquishing the hunger for revenge, never leaving anything but history on the field, Smitty attracted your emotional attachment. His impact on your life is presumably admittedly infinite. His 12 year tenure with the Panthers, however, may have seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye.
This ode is predicated on perspective. This is coming from a kid who asked for Smitty jerseys in early December, cried when he laid on the sideline in agony on Monday Night Football in 2004. A kid who ran around the house with a black and blue ball in my arm, diving on to the couch, proceeding to stand up, spin the ball on the ground and slap myself on the head 'scream-whispering' profanities to imaginary cornerbacks. A kid who boosted all of Smitty's attributes in Madden to 99 because I genuinely found the original ratings to be utterly incorrect. A kid with a hero.
Smitty provided a dash of continuity in my life when life itself provided quite the opposite. At times the only thing I could count on was that Steve Smith was going to suit up in sliver and black, blue, or white and put on a show.
Number 89 reigned over the league long before I had entered the general realm of understanding the "X's & O's" aspect of football. I didn't recognize how well Smitty attacked the point of the catch, his elusiveness with the ball in his hands, or his physicality at the line of scrimmage. In my eyes, he was simply a super hero carrying out his heroic football duties to the Carolinas.
I continued to grow -- in size, age, brain capacity, and maturity. My love for the Panthers grew just as steadily. This team is my life, and Steve Smith has always been the staple, the foundation, the face of the franchise. The roar of the crowd at Bank of America never reached its maximum volume until the finale of player introductions -- "At Wide Receiver... from Utah... Number 89! Steve Smith!" As he emerged from the smokey tunnel, the sensation never decreased in intensity from the first time I witnessed it in 2005 as a 3rd grader to my last in 2012 as a sophomore in high school. There's an energy he created that we must unfortunately store in our memories. But wherever Cam takes us, no matter how many Lombardi trophies come to Charlotte, let us not forget the rules and regulations of the game: 89. Bottom line.