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Steve Smith Trying To Mellow At Age 35


It would be really easy for Steve Smith Sr. to say he's more motivated than ever this season.

For the first time in his NFL career, Smith was fired.

For a person that has fed so much off proving people wrong, the Carolina Panthers provided Smith with fantastic fodder.

But Smith – believe it or not – is trying to mellow at age 35.

That's not to say he'll always be totally successful, but he's trying.

"It's a day-to-day fight," the new Ravens wide receiver said. "It's something I wrestle with every day. I try not to get up and say I'm going to prove them wrong. I get caught up in it some days, but once I do that, I give them the power over me."

Smith came into the NFL as a 5-foot-9 receiver/returner with an offensive lineman's-sized chip on his shoulder. He was drafted in the third round in 2001, a few months after the Ravens won their first Super Bowl.

Smith still holds onto what draftniks said about him back then. In May, he tweeted a magazine clipping from Sporting News, which said he "isn't ready to contribute at receiver" and that "the Panthers spent a third-round pick on a punt returner."


All these years later, that still irks Smith.

"If someone says I can't do it, I'm going to try my damndest to do it," he said. "I really wanted to be a receiver. That's all I wanted to be. Every day I would look for somebody to prove wrong."

Thirteen seasons, 12,197 receiving yards, 67 touchdowns and five Pro Bowls later, Smith has undoubtedly proven he's a receiver. He's been one of the best in the game over the past decade.

There are only two other wideouts in his draft class still playing (Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss). Smith keeps track.

"I've realized that I'm respected in this league. But it's taken me a while," Smith says.

"Because I was so focused on proving people wrong, I didn't really realize till I got here to Baltimore that I've got to let some of that [anger] go. It gets old. It's an emotional roller coaster that's not fun."

Smith's feeling of being respected was tested when the Panthers released him on March 13. There had been rumors, but Smith didn't expect it would actually happen. He was planning to be a Panther for life.

Last January, in the wake of the Panthers' playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Smith's body ached after playing through a knee sprain. He questioned whether he had the energy and diligence to do his job to the fullest.

So Smith made the decision with his wife that 2014 would be his final season.

But after Smith's release, he was courted by several teams. The Patriots' Bill Belichick called him personally, trying to get him to come to New England. The interest sparked something in Smith. He started working out again and his knee felt better.

His feelings towards the Panthers, however, were still raw.

"I don't know if you say 'no hard feelings,'" Smith said. "At the end of the day, I don't think there's anyone who has been terminated who says, 'Yay, I got fired! Good job!' You're stunned."

The good news was that getting released made Smith reevaluate his career – and his life.

Smith immediately vowed "blood and guts" if he got to face the Panthers. But he quickly backed off those comments. The release helped him put things in perspective.

"Being a California kid, there's the Pacific Coast Highway. It's a beautiful highway," Smith said. "I look at the NFL like the Pacific Coast Highway. For 12 years, I never really stopped, got out of the car, took my wife and observed the sunset. I never pulled over and smelled the roses.

"When I was released, I made sure that I had an understanding that I'm going to enjoy the journey. I'm going to appreciate the view and have fun."

That's not to say Smith is on cruise control. He's not wired that way.

Smith has been reenergized by a new challenge from a change in scenery.

He's learning an entirely new offense that requires extra study time. There's getting used to new teammates and a different quarterback. There's trying to find his niche as a leader. There's getting accustomed to new opponents in a new conference.

Even just moving from Charlotte, N.C. and adjusting to a new city has brought its challenges. Smith joked that he had trouble finding a place to stay, stocking his refrigerator and even finding the Under Armour Performance Center on his car's navigation system.

"I'm energized in life now, I'm challenged," Smith said. "When you're somewhere for so long, you know what's behind doors one, two and three. I'm on a new game show now. When I have the opportunity to compete in a new arena, man, that fills me up."

While Smith is trying to let go of the anger associated with needing to prove people wrong, the competitiveness inside him burns as bright as ever.


Everybody at Ravens training camp has marveled at how hard Smith practices, fighting for every pass thrown his way. He's still tussling with teammates and spinning the ball after good catches.

Smith quarreled with Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb during minicamp when Webb got too physical contesting a pass. Smith brought him a peace offering of Dunkin' Donuts the next day. A few weeks later, Smith and cornerback Chykie Brown clashed.

But the cornerbacks haven't taken offense.

"Steve just has fun when he practices. While he's catching the ball and spinning it sometimes, he's just enjoying himself," Webb said.

"This game is fun and a lot of guys want to not look at it as fun anymore. They want to be so serious and think it's all about the money and being famous. With Steve, I just see that he loves the game. He loves to have fun. He's just enjoying himself."

What about that trash talk?

"Yeah, he gets on my nerves sometimes when I'm guarding him," Webb continued with a chuckle. "That's greatness. Greatness should get on your nerves sometimes."

Smith will be a huge part of the Ravens offense this year. He's the gritty receiver that will make tough catches and move the chains, something it badly missed last season. Some pundits have predicted Smith will lead the team in receptions.

But Smith said he's not trying to put too much pressure on himself anymore to prove this or prove that. He signed a three-year contract with the Ravens and he intends to enjoy the ride.

"We play a lot of Yahtzee at home," Smith explained.

"Whatever dice I roll, if it's all fives or all ones, I'm just putting it all on chance. I'm going to have fun. I'm still going to be professional, I'm still going to play well and perform. But I'm going to make it less about proving somebody wrong."

So what's going to happen Week 4 when the Panthers come to M&T Bank Stadium?

Smith thought long and hard, and then smiled.

"There are always several games on every year's schedule where you may have a professional or personal reason why that game is meaningful," he said. "I'll try not to get too wrapped up into it."

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