Steve Smith Sr.: Time For Me To Put On My Son's Jersey
When the horn sounded at 10 a.m. last Monday for the start of practice, John Harbaugh called for the team to huddle around him.
Lifting a sweat jacket to reveal his t-shirt underneath, Harbs said: "Just happened to wear this shirt this morning."
The shirt read: "Iron Sharpens Iron As One Man Sharpens Another."
"We have the greatest iron sharpener, our designated iron sharpener," Harbs exclaimed as his voice rose. "The Ravens' iron sharpener, Steve Smith Sr., and he has an announcement that he wants to share with you first. Steve, it's all yours."
Smith Sr., the 15-year veteran who has earned five Pro Bowls, stepped to the middle of the circle: "I've spent many nights going to sleep and waking up thinking about this. I've come to the conclusion that this is my last season. I wanted to tell all of you first.
"For me, I plan to leave a trail of destruction behind. I want you to know that. It's going to be my honor and privilege to do this with all of you."
John then added: "It's going to be our honor and privilege to be with you on this journey. Let's get a huddle and go to work."
With that, the feisty receiver raised his hand, and the full team gravitated around him: "Ravens on three. One, two, three," and the full team shouted "Ravens."
Like A Long-Time Raven
Steve Smith Sr. has been a Raven for 18 months, but it seems to many of us that he has been here longer. That goes to his production on the field, his leadership in the locker room and the force of his giant personality. Clearly, he is one great competitor – he does Play Like A Raven – and he is one of those people who sees everything, and, more often than not, is willing to comment on what he observes.
Steve makes people laugh. Recently, he was asked by a reporter, "When did the age questions start for you?" With a twinkle in his eye, the barely 5-foot-9 standout instantly replied: "When the height questions stopped."
Prior to our game last season against his former team, the Carolina Panthers, we cautioned Steve about what he might say to reporters that week. He listened and then would just smile and walk away. He was terrific all week, despite being baited by reporters to bad mouth the Panthers. Instead, he offered compliment after compliment and talked of his friendship with owner Jerry Richardson.
You remember what happened at that game. We thumped the Panthers pretty good, 38-10. Smith was spectacular, scoring two touchdowns among his seven catches for 139 yards. After the game, we reminded Steve to not let the reporters inspire him to say something he could regret. He, of course, smiled and said he was ready.
And he did so well ... until the final question when he was asked how much talking there was between some of his former teammates and him during the game. He hesitated, smiled and said: "That film was a coaching session. They're going to be coaching that. I'm 35 years old, and I ran around them boys like they were schoolyard kids."
"OK then, that's it," I said as I closed the conference. As we walked back to the locker room, I said: "You had done so well …" He chuckled, "Your fault. You left me up there one question too many."
Damn, he was right.
Wanted Announcement Now
When Steve mentioned to me a few days into training camp that he wanted to announce that this would be his final season, I suggested he wait until "You have a few good games under your belt, so the reporters don't think you're doing this because you're not playing as well."
We were walking off the field. He stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me like I was nuts and said, "Have you been watching practice? Have they? No one can say that."
When I responded with, "Let's think about this for a few days," he laughed: "I don't have to think anymore, and I don't want 'Mama' (wife Angie) to think I'm having second thoughts."
Steve actually mentioned to me last December that he thought the 2015 season would be his last. He was introduced to John McClain, a reporter/columnist for the Houston Chronicle, who is one of the 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. McClain was in town to do stories on former Texans Gary Kubiak and Justin Forsett prior to our Houston game.
McClain noted to Steve that the receiver's numbers were getting him into the "Hall of Fame conversation."
Later, I mentioned to Smith Sr. that if he could have a couple of more seasons like he was having then, "They'll have to put you in."
Smith Sr. could have just said "thanks" and walked away. Instead, he offered: "Think next season might be my last." Why, I questioned. … He obviously was competing at a high, high level. "My oldest (Peyton, 17) is a good soccer player. You know what he does every Sunday? He puts on MY jersey and comes to MY games and watches his daddy play. It's time for me to put on his jersey and go watch him play."
Is Smith Sr. A Hall Of Famer?
No matter what he does this season, Smith Sr. is already in the Hall of Fame conversation. Tim Brown was inducted last Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. Brown and Smith Sr. are the only players in NFL history to have more than 13,000 receiving yards and over 4,000 yards returning kicks. If Smith Sr. produces 638 receiving yards in 2015, he'll move into the NFL's all-time top 10, passing two Hall of Famers, James Lofton and Cris Carter.
And, think about this when you discuss Smith Sr.'s production. He has produced eight 1,000-yard seasons as a receiver, including last year when he caught 79 for 1,065 yards from Joe Flacco. To give you an idea of Carolina's quarterback level during Steve's time there – his seven other four-digit seasons featured seven different starting signal callers.
Whether he makes it or not, Steve will continue to compete. He's that kind of person. He loves challenges. I could see this in 20 years from Grandpa Steve. One of his grandkids will say something like, "Hey Gramps, heard you were pretty fast in your day." That confident smile will appear, and he'll offer, "Still am. Let's race."
And when he wins that race, we all know what he'll exclaim: "Ice up, grandchild!"
Let's enjoy this last football run with Steve Smith Sr. It will be our honor and privilege to watch.
Talk with you next week,