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Eisenberg: Fate Was Steve Smith's Biggest Enemy This Season, And Smith Won The Battle


If we've learned anything about Steve Smith Sr. in his three years with the Ravens, it's that he likes a good beef – a lively disagreement with someone, usually an opponent, occasionally a media member.

Smith, 37, came from the Carolina Panthers with a reputation for playing and practicing with an edge, and he has done nothing to change that perception.

This season, he has exchanged trash talk and Twitter volleys seemingly almost weekly with rival cornerbacks such as rookie Jalen Ramsey and former teammate Mike Mitchell. He has tossed his helmet in practice and chided reporters who gently asked if he might be getting too old for this.

He doesn't just like it. He needs it, thrives on it. Doubting Smith, dissing him, is the surest way to activate that big chip on his shoulder that has been humming for 16 NFL seasons. Since he entered the league as a third-round draft pick who thought he deserved to go higher, he has been motivated by trying to prove people wrong.

Few players have found more enjoyment in staring across the line and taunting an opponent who dared to doubt him, challenge him or somehow disagree with his world view. Ice up, son. Remind me again, who are you?

He has added to those classics with his various beefs in 2016. Remember when he smiled and said he was losing so much sleep at night because of rookies losing respect for him that he kept forgetting to put his cleats in the mail to the Hall of Fame?

It's funny about the beefs he has concocted this year, though. Yes, they've generated headlines and some smiles and kept Smith motivated, but the biggest one has received no attention. I'm talking about his beef with fate.

Yes, fate.

That's the biggest enemy Smith has battled in 2016.

Why do you think he reversed field on his announced retirement a year ago after a midseason Achilles injury ended his 2015 season prematurely? He was mad at fate. Mad enough to spit.

If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing his thoughts, it was something like this: "I'm not going to end my 15 great years in the NFL by being dragged off the field with one good leg. I deserve a better ending than that. And you know what? I'm going to come back and make sure I get a better ending than that."

Ice up, fate.

No, he never tweeted philosophical tough talk like that; it's easier just to lob grenades at on-field rivals. But make no mistake, that was his goal this season. Stick a fork in fate. Stage an inspiring and appropriate ending for his magnificent career, as opposed to the sad ending fate picked out for him.

He has pulled it off as only he can, with a feisty flourish.

Through 15 games, he has caught 67 passes for 765 yards and five touchdowns. He has been important, productive, valued, consistent. He has delivered big plays, led his teammates, saved his best performances for the Ravens' biggest games.

Honestly, I'm not sure you can do the 37-year-old NFL receiver thing much better.

No, he isn't going to experience Ray Lewis-perfection, with Super Bowl confetti dappling his shoulder pads after his final game. He said this week he's "89 percent sure" he's retiring, this time for good, and since the Ravens didn't make the playoffs, that's it.

But while Smith surely is disappointed about that, he's also surely at peace with it all. He gave his best. It was really good. What more can he do?

All eyes will be on him Sunday when he closes out his career in Cincinnati in a game with no playoff implications. But regardless of what happens, my favorite farewell memory of him came last Sunday. When the Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers with their season on the line, Smith was at his snarling best, making plays, scoring a touchdown, still showing he's a danger to defenses.

It wasn't how he wanted to go out because the Ravens lost a heartbreaker, but big picture, it was quite a sight and quite a way to go out, looking years younger than he really is.

That's how he wanted to end his career. And by refusing to submit to fate, he did.

Athletic ability won't be the only legacy left behind by Steve Smith. Take a read through some of his best trash talking moments as a Raven.

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