If you ever wondered why Steve Smith plays with a chip on his shoulder, consider this: he’s 5-9, he played college football at Utah and he was a third-round draft pick. If you were a betting man, you probably would have bet on Smith failing in the NFL.
Fourteen seasons later, however, Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler, is still going strong. But the Baltimore wide receiver has decided that the 2015 season – his 15th in the league – will be his last.
Jake Delhomme, his former quarterback in Carolina, wasn’t surprised by Smith’s announcement. He also wasn’t surprised that Smith had the career he did.
“He was the most gifted football player in terms of having the football in his hands,” the former Pro Bowl quarterback said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “(Most) talented, I’d have to say he’s right up there. I thought the best football player I ever played with, bar none, was Willie Roaf, the left tackle. Obviously Willie’s a Hall of Famer – and (it’s) a big disgrace that he didn’t go in (on the) first ballot – but the best athlete and dynamic player with the ball in his hands certainly was Steve. There’s no doubt in my mind – I’ll go to my grave saying this – if Steve would just be a punt returner and a kick returner, he would go down as the greatest of all time. His rookie year, he made the Pro Bowl as a punt and kick returner. A lot of people don’t know that. Didn’t play much receiver that year. Our Super Bowl year, he was still returning punts for us. It seemed like when we did not block anybody, that’s when Steve was at his best. He won games for us that year by putting us in position. But I truly believe he would have been the greatest punt and kick returner in the history of the game had that just been what he concentrated on.”
Delhomme threw more passes, more completions and more touchdowns to Smith than anyone else. One of the most accomplished players of his era, Smith ranks among the top 10 all-purpose players in NFL history. He also played his best on the biggest stages, with 1,001 yards and nine touchdowns in nine career playoff games.
Delhomme remembers Smith for his competitiveness, sure, but also for his humility.
“If I would’ve missed him on a play or something, the only thing he would have said back in the huddle (was), ‘Hey, I had it,’” Delhomme said. “That was it. We had that respect with each other. If he would drop a pass, I would never browbeat him or berate him. I don’t think you do that. Maybe some guys you have to light a fire under, but I never had to light one under him. And certainly he would get frustrated, I think, at times because so many teams would roll to him and send two guys, but then that helped us in other areas. It helped us with our running game away from him because they were keeping two guys and completely worrying about Steve, so we had an advantage on the other end. He just wanted to win. He wanted to compete and win, and he certainly helped us win by getting him involved. I think the biggest thing for him was he wanted to win every day. I’ve used it to describe him: He had a competitive arrogance about him – meaning, ‘I am the best at what I do, and that’s it. Very simple. The ball’s in the air. I’m going to get it. It’s my football.’ That’s what made him so good.”