PANTHERS GREAT STEVE SMITH OPENS UP ON HIS FA­VORITE QB AND MORE

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY SCOTT FOWLER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com quar­ter­back tip­toe Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scot­t_­fowler

Would you like to lis­ten to Steve Smith talk for 45 min­utes by can­dle­light?

That’s what a crowd of about 250 peo­ple at the Hood Har­gett Break­fast Club did Fri­day, when the former NFL wide re­ceiver’s ap­pear­ance went on as sched­uled in Char­lotte de­spite weather-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions from the pre­vi­ous day’s storms.

A power out­age meant the ban­quet room at Carmel Coun­try Club was shrouded in dark­ness. Some­one found enough bat­ter­ies to power up a sin­gle mi­cro­phone.

One mi­cro­phone has al­ways been enough, though, when­ever Smith has been in the mood to talk.

A Pan­ther from 200113, a mem­ber of Carolina’s Hall of Honor and now an an­a­lyst for the NFL Net­work, Smith re­mains fas­ci­nat­ing, tal­ented, prickly and — at least for my money — the best player in fran­chise his­tory and a fu­ture Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famer.

For a rapt au­di­ence, Smith an­swered ques­tions from em­cee and former Carolina team­mate Kevin Don­nal­ley and from sev­eral Panthers fans.

I’ve heard Smith, 40, give dozens of in­ter­views over the past two decades. But much of this still sounded new, like:

Smith’s view of the

A dif­fer­ence be­tween Cam New­ton and Jake Del­homme.

Why Smith won’t go

A to Las Ve­gas to cover this year’s NFL draft.

How his hum­ble ori­gins

A in­spired the Steve Smith Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, which con­cen­trates on help­ing vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Why the wide re­ceiver A used to try to con­vince his coaches to sub­sti­tute Jonathan Ste­wart into Carolina games to re­place DeAn­gelo Wil­liams.

Why he still praises

A former Panthers owner Jerry Richard­son, a man whose #MeToo legacy has tar­nished the team’s founder in the minds of many.

“I’m a very trans­par­ent and blunt per­son,” Smith said at one point be­fore launch­ing into an­other story.

Later, Smith was de­scrib­ing his love for his adopted home­town of Char­lotte and how it dif­fers from the pover­tys­tricken neigh­bor­hood where he grew up in Los An­ge­les.

“Char­lotte is a nice, smi­ley-face city,” Smith said. “I’m a sweat­pants, pack-a-pis­tol kind of dude.”

To laugh­ter from the au­di­ence, Smith added about the pis­tol he had ref­er­enced: “It’s le­gal, though … I’ve got it reg­is­tered.”

One note: The me­dia wasn’t alerted to Smith’s ap­pear­ance. But The Ob­server is a long­time mem­ber of the Hood Har­gett Break­fast Club, so I was able to at­tend Smith’s talk.

Smith re­al­ized I was in the au­di­ence tak­ing notes, and men­tioned that fact sev­eral times while he was at the mi­cro­phone. So he knew this wasn’t a se­cret talk — even though the semi-dark­ness, cou­pled with Smith’s level of hon­esty, some­times made it feel like it was.

Let’s get right to Smith’s most in­ter­est­ing quotes, lightly edited for clar­ity and brevity.

ON THE BEST QUAR­TER­BACK HE EVER HAD

Smith: “The best ath­letic

quar­ter­back I played with is Cam New­ton. The best I played with — the guy I grew up with, the guy I got paid with — (is Jake Del­homme).

“Cam is an ex­cel­lent ath­lete. How­ever, I didn’t learn from Cam and make mis­takes with Cam. I grew up with Jake .... (My kids) and Jake’s kids grew up to­gether. In­vited each other to birthday par­ties.

“When Cam came along, I was (32 years old). When Jake and I played, we were two blind dogs in the meat house. And when you grow with peo­ple like that, it’s a dif­fer­ent place in your heart than some­one who’s just ath­letic and re­ally gifted.”

ON WHY HE BE­GAN THE STEVE SMITH FAM­ILY FOUN­DA­TION

Smith: “I started my foun­da­tion with some­thing that meant some­thing to me — my mom is a sur­vivor of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. My fa­ther never raised his hand to my mother. But she had men in her life that did not honor her the same way my dad hon­ored her or the way I honor my wife (Angie; she and Steve have four kids).

“And so we started a foun­da­tion on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, be­cause it’s some­thing I re­mem­ber. We do it based on what I ex­pe­ri­enced … By the age of Deuce (Smith’s youngest child, who is 5), I ex­pe­ri­enced watch­ing my mom get beat up. I re­mem­ber (that was) the first time I wanted to hurt some­one.”

Note: Dur­ing his re­marks, Smith said he would match a $1,000 schol­ar­ship that was be­ing awarded to Gianna Wessler, a three-sport ath­lete at But­ler High who was in at­ten­dance.

ON HIS LEVEL OF POVERTY GROW­ING UP

Smith: “I was an An­gel Tree kid. I was a Sal­va­tion Army kid. We was on food stamps. We was on Sec­tion 8 (hous­ing).”

ON HOW HIS BACK­GROUND PRO­VIDES THE REA­SON HE WON’T GO TO LAS VE­GAS

Smith: “We only work (at his foun­da­tion) with what I am: Bat­tered, bruised, wounded, jacked up and try­ing to fig­ure it out . ... To me, it’s bib­li­cal. We only want what Je­sus hung out with: the knuck­le­heads (Smith then pointed at him­self) ....

“I still go to coun­sel­ing (Smith has spo­ken pub­licly about his bat­tles with de­pres­sion). Be­cause — just to wit­ness some of the things I’ve wit­nessed, to see some of the things that I’ve seen — I’ve sup­pressed that … There are cer­tain movies with cer­tain things in it that I can’t watch, be­cause it re­minds me of where I grew up … The (2020 NFL) draft is in Ve­gas. I can’t go to Ve­gas. The drugs, the sex — it’s a trig­ger for me.”

ON FORMER PANTHERS OWNER JERRY RICHARD­SON

Smith: “In my speech, I used a name that every­body else kind of ducked around (Richard­son sold the Panthers to David Tep­per un­der duress af­ter an ex­plo­sive Sports Il­lus­trated story in 2017 chron­i­cled Richard­son’s ex­ten­sive work­place mis­con­duct, which later re­sulted in a record NFL fine).

“I’m not afraid to say that I’m in­debted to Mr. Richard­son be­cause he gave me an op­por­tu­nity, de­spite every­thing that’s hap­pened. He gave an op­por­tu­nity to a young, black kid not re­ally un­der­stand­ing what it is to be a man. He changed my fam­ily’s fu­ture mov­ing for­ward gen­er­a­tionally.”

ON FORMER CAROLINA RUN­NING BACKS JONATHAN STE­WART AND DEAN­GELO WIL­LIAMS

Smith: “Jonathan (who at­tended Smith’s talk Fri­day) was a great run­ning back. And Jonathan knew that there were cer­tain points of the game — DeAn­gelo isn’t here so I’ll tell this one any­way — DeAn­gelo would through the hole. And when he’d tip­toe, I’d look to the side­line and go, ‘Get his a--- out of here and put Stewie in, be­cause I’m not block­ing for free.’”

ON WHY HE PLAYED FOOT­BALL

Smith: “I played ball for one rea­son — to beat the man in front of me. That’s re­ally it. And if that man hap­pened to be on my same team, I did not get that memo ...

“I just loved tak­ing a guy and just putting them in the dirt. And there was noth­ing he could do about it. No­body could save him — not his mama, his wife, his girl­friend … I wasn’t in the sport to play and be friends. I wasn’t in­ter­ested in friends. I don’t have many friends. Not be­cause I’m an unlikable per­son, but be­cause that’s the way I grew up. I thrive on be­ing alone.”

ON THE FA­VORITE PLAY HE EVER MADE AS A PAN­THER

Smith: “My daugh­ter was sup­posed to be born on Septem­ber 11th (2001). But she was born on Septem­ber 5th.

“Septem­ber 5th was a Wed­nes­day. And I kept the pink hospi­tal band on and I said: ‘I won’t take it off un­til I score a touch­down.’ Well, I scored a touch­down on the first kick­off. And I re­mem­ber that and I still have the ball, that’s in her room.”

(Note: Smith is re­fer­ring to his rookie year, when he took a kick­off back 93 yards for a touch­down against Min­nesota the first time he ever touched the ball as an NFL player).

ON WHY SMITH WANTS TO BE IDEN­TI­FIED AS MORE THAN A FOOT­BALL PLAYER

Smith: “I’m no longer a foot­ball player. I re­ally don’t like the stigma of a foot­ball player be­cause, I mean, be hon­est — Most peo­ple an­a­lyze it and think all foot­ball play­ers are stupid.”

ON WHAT HE DOES WHEN HE GOES HOME TO LOS AN­GE­LES

Smith: “Go­ing back to LA is al­ways a re­set but­ton for me. … It was roughly a 45-minute drive by car to the Santa Mon­ica Pier (from Smith’s old house). … But on a bus it’s about 2.5 hours, and we rode the bus a lot of the time. So when I go home, I fly into LA. I go to a bur­rito spot that I used to go to when I was a kid. And then I drive the bus route (to Santa Mon­ica Pier).”

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Former Panthers wide re­ceiver Steve Smith shakes hands prior to a pre­sea­son game be­tween Buf­falo and Carolina in Au­gust.

MATT WALSH [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Smith smiles af­ter tak­ing off his Panthers blue blazer to re­veal his No. 89 jersey un­der­neath dur­ing Carolina’s Hall of Honor cer­e­mony in Oc­to­ber. Smith was in­ducted along with Jake Del­homme, the quar­ter­back he said he “grew up with” as a Pan­ther.

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

In 2011, then-Panthers owner Jerry Richard­son em­braces Smith be­fore a game.

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