On the Ravens' first rainy day of training camp, Steve Smith Sr. gathered his teammates at the start of practice and told them this will be his final season.
Smith is 36 years old. He's entering his 15th NFL season. Now Smith will be going out at the top of his game, something not many players get to do.
"I just feel like it's time," Smith said. "I'm going home to be dad and look back and enjoy things. … There's something about [Baltimore]. I feel like this is the best place. This is the best place to end."
Smith feels like Baltimore is the perfect place to hang it up because the Ravens gave him an opportunity to keep playing, to go out on his own terms.
He made the decision in April. After last season ended, General Manager Ozzie Newsome told the receiver to take some time before deciding whether to come back. Once he started training, Smith knew this would be his final season.
He told some of his fellow receivers and a few people around the Ravens' Under Armour Performance Center, including Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Smith missed practice on Friday and Saturday to go home to Carolina, where his daughter had an emergency surgery. On his first day back, Smith decided it was time to inform everybody else of his decision. He said he wanted to get it off his chest.
Still, the announcement came as a surprise considering how vehemently and successfully Smith has battled Father Time, both with his words and on-field play. When Smith launched into his announcement, one reporter chuckled, thinking he was joking.
When Smith was let go by the Carolina Panthers following 13 seasons, some people thought it might signal the end to his career. Smith has proven that wrong in Baltimore.
"He certainly earned the right to go out on his own terms," Harbaugh said. "He's going out at the top of his game. There's no question about that."
Smith has worn his age like a badge of honor. It's in part why he put "Sr." on the back of his jersey when he joined the Ravens last year.
He wanted to show everybody he could still play at a high level in his twilight years. In a revenge game against Carolina, Smith "ran around those boys like they were schoolyard kids," catching seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith finished the year leading the Ravens in catches (79) and receiving yards (1,065 yards), and scored six touchdowns. He hasn't slowed down a bit this offseason and is looking like Baltimore's top wideout once again.
Smith is feisty as ever. He's made countless plays during training camp, capped off each time with his patented ball spin. When asked which of his teammates he would least like to fight in a dark alley, Smith said he would pick any one of his teammates, including guard Marshal Yanda.
Harbaugh has talked to Smith about taking fewer snaps this season, but Smith clearly rejects the notion. He said he anticipates Harbaugh will have a tough time taking him off the field because both are competitors who like to win.
"He's going to force you to practice every single day or he's going to humiliate you," Harbaugh said. "It's as simple as that. He's going to force you to bring your A-game or you're going to look really bad. And he doesn't apologize for that."
But there's another side of Smith that people don't see behind his tinted visor.
He's a devoted family man with four children. One son is about to head off to college and another, Steve Smith Jr., is just an infant. Smith's family stayed in North Carolina when he left the Panthers, and he visited them during the season as much as possible.
"It's very difficult," he said. "I guess some people enjoy being married, some people don't enjoy being married. I enjoy my family, so it's kind of tough to see them in spurts."
Smith isn't sure what's on the other end of retirement, but he said he'll lean on the league to get over the "grieving" that will ensue. Football has been his life for the past 20 years.
"It's kind of like being married or something, having children," Smith said. "You know how to do it, you enjoy doing it, but you're not sure how it's going to turn out. And you just trust to have faith that it's going to work out the way it's supposed to work out."
At the start of OTAs, Smith said he wouldn't play into his 40s like all-time great wide receiver Jerry Rice. That was the first* *indication that the end of his career could be around the corner.
"I don't want to hold on," Smith said. "Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver ever to play, but I don't believe chasing whatever there is to chase for four more years would be conducive to my family or conducive to me. I would have to give up something. I would be jeopardizing something. And I don't know what that is, and I don't have any intensions of finding out."
Smith has Hall-of-Fame credentials. He ranks 14th on the all-time receiving yards list at 13,262 yards. He's just 637 yards out of the top-10 and former Vikings receiver, and now Hall of Famer, Cris Carter.
The only item left unchecked on Smith's football resume is a Super Bowl title. He played in one in 2004, when the Panthers lost to the Patriots, 32-29.
His announcement is reminiscent of when Ray Lewis told his teammates that the 2012 postseason would be his "last ride." That ride concluded with a Super Bowl XLVII victory. Of course, Smith and the Ravens would like nothing more than to repeat that narrative.
"We want to come together and let him go out the right way," said outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was part of sending Lewis out on top.
"I don't want to be the guy that stands in the way of his dream to go to the Super Bowl," added wide receiver Marlon Brown. "I go out there and practice and play to the best of my ability, not just for me or the team, but for Steve."
But Smith refuses to pin his career on winning a Super Bowl. He said he's not chasing anything.
He seems intent on proving, one last time, that he can still play – to the very end.
"I think it's always easier when you have a finish line. You can let things loose," Smith said.
"I'm not really a big gambler or anything, but now all my chips are on the table. We're going to see what the dealer gives me."