Too small to play pro football? Try telling that to legendary 5’9″ Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr.
Smith Sr. defied all odds by finishing his stellar 16-year NFL career with 14,731 receiving yards and 81 touchdowns.
During his pro football career, Smith Sr. was known for running his mouth and displaying a brash persona on the sidelines.
However, it was just one facet of his personality. You’d be surprised to find out his life outside of football hardly resembles the temperamental loudmouth he was on the gridiron.
In fact, Smith Sr. also faced his own demons off the football field.
On it, he showed everybody why he’s arguably the greatest player in Carolina Panthers franchise history and a potential member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Stevonnne Latrall Smith, Sr. was born in Los Angeles, CA on May 12, 1979.
Smith Sr. attended University High School in L.A. where he suited up for the track and football teams. He excelled in the high hurdles, triple jump, and 300-meter hurdles.
He played running back and defensive back for the University Wildcats. Smith Sr. played so well he earned All-Metro League selection and All-California Interscholastic Federation selection honors in 1997.
Despite Smith Sr’s success on the gridiron, he had issues in the classroom.
His offensive coordinator Gifford Lindheim told SI.com’s Greg Bishop in November 2014 Smith Sr. always got into fights. He never imagined him playing sixteen years in the National Football League.
Fortunately, Steve Smith, Sr. turned over a new leaf when he entered the college football ranks.
College Days With The Utah Utes
Steve Smith, Sr. initially enrolled at Santa Monica College where he became an All-American wide receiver.
During his two-year stint, he was part of a formidable wide receiver tandem with future six-time NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson.
Smith Sr. also worked at Taco Bell after practice with the Santa Monica Corsairs football team, per SI.com.
Smith Sr. eventually transferred to the University of Utah where he saw snow for the first time in his life. His friends also began calling him “Steve.”
He also achieved another milestone in his life: he met his future wife Angie in college. They’ve been together ever since.
Unfortunately, Smith Sr. let her down occasionally.
One perfect example was when he broke a teammate’s nose in college, per Bishop.
In Smith Sr’s first year with the Utes in 1999, he had a team-leading 860 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions.
He also set a new school single-season record with 495 punt return yards and three punt returns for touchdowns. Smith Sr. also led the Mountain West Conference with 140.5 all-purpose yards in 1999.
He consequently earned First-Team All-Mountain West honors that year.
Behind Smith Sr’s exploits, the Utes won nine games and beat the Fresno State Bulldogs in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl, 17-16.
Smith Sr. had 1,108 all-purpose yards and earned Second-Team All-Mountain West honors in the 2000 NCAA season
Unfortunately, Utah regressed in his final year in Salt Lake City.
The Utes won just four games in 2000. It was the fewest they had won since the 1990 NCAA campaign.
Despite ending his college football career on a sour note, Steve Smith, Sr. went on to become one of the best players in Carolina Panthers franchise history in the NFL.
Pro Football Career
The Carolina Panthers made Steve Smith, Sr. the 74th overall selection of the 2001 NFL Draft.
Smith Sr played primarily as a kick return specialist during his rookie year in 2001. He had 1,431 kick return yards and two kick returns for touchdowns.
Alas, the Panthers reached rock bottom with a dismal 1-15 win-loss record. It’s the worst record in franchise history.
Smith Sr. showed the Panthers he was more than just a kick return man in his second year in the pro ranks.
He had 144 receiving yards and a touchdown. Not only that, but he also added 87 kick return yards and another touchdown in the Panthers’ resounding 52-31 rout of the hapless Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13.
“Things like this come at times when you don’t expect it,” Smith Sr. told Panthers.com after the win.
Smith Sr. used that game as a stepping stone for his 2003 NFL campaign.
He had the first of his eight 1,000-plus yard seasons that year. He also added seven touchdowns as the Panthers improved to 11-5 – their best record since their 12-win season in 1996.
In @SuperBowl XXXVIII, Steve Smith Sr. caught 4 passes for 80 yards including this 39-yard TD.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) May 12, 2017
Unfortunately, the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, 32-29.
Smith Sr. had 80 receiving yards and a touchdown on four receptions in the loss.
He took a major step backward in his fourth pro season. He fractured his leg during the season opener against the Green Bay Packers and had to sit out the remainder of the 2004 NFL campaign.
It didn’t take long for Steve Smith, Sr. to turn things around.
Smith Sr. enjoyed his best pro season in 2005.
That year, he won the elusive “Triple Crown” for wide receivers: led the league in catches (103), receiving yards (1,563), and receiving touchdowns (12).
The gaudy feat was even more remarkable considering Smith Sr. had a major leg injury the previous year.
It came as no surprise he earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2005.
He also earned the first of his two First-Team All-Pro and the second of his five Pro Bowl berths.
Steve Smith, Sr. was now officially a household name in Carolina.
During Smith Sr’s first few years in the National Football League, he saw firsthand how his teammates made bad financial decisions that crippled their savings.
He hired a financial specialist, did an internship at Morgan Stanley for two straight years, and even flew to London for a financial seminar, per Bishop.
Smith Sr. eventually bought a Bentley after his NFL salary earned enough interest. It took him eight-and-a-half years to make that purchase.
While Smith Sr. made wiser investments, he made progress on the gridiron.
He missed just a combined nine games from 2005 to 2014. He had seven seasons with at least 1,002 receiving yards during that stretch.
The Panthers averaged eight games a year when Smith Sr. went on his tear. They never made it past the NFC Championship Game from 2005 to 2014.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) May 5, 2020
Taylor Zarzour was a radio talk show host at WFNZ in North Carolina when Smith Sr. played for the Panthers. He reached out to Smith Sr. about a potential role at the station.
To Zarzour’s astonishment, Smith Sr. wanted to start as an intern.
Smith Sr. didn’t want to go on air immediately. Instead, he wanted to learn the intricacies of sports broadcasting – every nuance and detail imaginable.
Smith Sr. put in the work and interned at WFNZ for several months. He and Zarzour soon had two weekly conversations that the latter considered the most fun he ever had working for WFNZ.
It developed an on- and off-air rapport that soon developed into a brotherhood.
When an opportunity to call games for the Carolina Panthers arose in 2021, Zarzour reached out to Smith Sr. once again.
Smith Sr. didn’t hesitate. The duo is currently doing television broadcasts for the Panthers.
In a stunning development, Carolina released Steve Smith, Sr. – the face of its franchise for the past thirteen years – in a salary cap move on March 13, 2014.
When Smith Sr. faced the Panthers in a different uniform, he told WFNZ-AM Charlotte (via ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton) “there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.”
Smith Sr. signed a three-year deal worth $11.5 million with the Baltimore Ravens a day after the Panthers waived him.
Shortly before Smith Sr. left for Baltimore, he revealed to Panthers.com in 2021 he bought all of his jerseys at Carolina’s official team store. By his estimate he has 500 of his jerseys in his attic, which he compared to “a swap meet.”
With the Ravens playing the Panthers in Week 2 of the 2021 preseason, now feels like the perfect time to bring this back
In 2014, Steve Smith Sr. torched his former team after they decided to release him
– 7 receptions
– 139 yards
– 2 touchdowns
– 1 winpic.twitter.com/XbsJE8E1Mm
— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) August 19, 2021
True to his word, Smith Sr. went off in his first game against the Panthers on September 29, 2014. He had 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 38-10 rout of Carolina.
Smith Sr. announced he would retire at the end of the 2015 NFL season.
However, he returned for one more season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016.
Smith Sr. had 799 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 70 receptions in his final NFL season.
The Baltimore Ravens finished with an 8-8 win-loss record in his final tour of duty in the pro ranks. They missed the postseason for the second straight year.
He finished his NFL career with 14,731 receiving yards and 81 touchdowns on 1,031 receptions.
Steve Smith, Sr. retired as the Carolina Panthers’ all-time leader in 72 statistical categories, including career receiving yards (12,197), receiving touchdowns (67), total touchdowns (75) and 100-yard receiving games (43).
Practicing healthy eating habits was one of his secrets to playing sixteen years in the NFL.
When Bishop interviewed him at the Baltimore Ravens cafeteria in the fall of 2014, he said he loves eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, particularly broccoli, asparagus, oranges, and apples.
Smith Sr. would feast on vegetarian fare the whole day. He won’t eat a piece of chicken or fish until supper.
According to SI.com, Smith Sr. cooks and bakes. One of his specialties is a cinnamon-apple oatmeal muffin.
Smith Sr. was never a big fan of strength training and jogging. Instead, he told SI.com he regularly breaks into a sweat by attending spin class, boxing, and doing plyometrics.
Smith Sr. wrote an article about his struggles with depression on NFL.com in the summer of 2018. He wrote the piece several months after Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives.
He admitted it was only when he played his final down after the 2016 NFL season when he really understood his battle with depression.
While he achieved a lot on the pro gridiron, he confessed he was a broken man inside:
“Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior, and alone. This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically, and emotionally broken.”
Smith Sr. recalled the aftermath of the Panthers’ 14-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship Game.
One would think Smith Sr. would celebrate considering the Panthers clinched their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
However, Carolina’s 101 passing yards during the game gnawed at Smith Sr. He felt so dismayed he couldn’t even hold the conference trophy, per NFL.com.
“We earned the opportunity to become world champions,” Smith wrote.” But in that victory, I felt defeated.”
It didn’t matter how successful Steve Smith, Sr. – a potential Pro Football Hall of Famer – became on and off the gridiron in ensuring years.
He admitted on NFL.com his penchant for criticizing himself and his inability to let past blunders go had a destructive effect on his mental health.
Things reached a boiling point in Smith Sr’s last year with the Panthers in 2013 – even the mundane things overwhelmed him.
Consequently, he decided to reach out to a counselor.
The counseling sessions paid off: Smith Sr. began seeing his flaws. He finally felt the burden of depression lifted off his shoulders a year-and-a-half after he hung up his cleats.
Ironically, Steve Smith, Sr’s outspoken nature on the gridiron was deceiving. HIs counselor labeled him “an extreme introvert” because of his habit of avoiding large crowds whenever possible.
Smith Sr. concluded there was nothing wrong with him. He wrote everyone has physical and mental weaknesses. He also advised anybody dealing with mental health issues to seek help so they can succeed in life.
Beginning in the 2012 NFL season, Smith Sr. and his family began donating shoes to the homeless before every road game.
Smith Sr. became an honorary captain of the Carolina Panthers on December 18, 2018.
Steve Smith, Sr. and his wife Angie have four children: Peyton, Baylee, Boston, and Steve, Jr. He changed his jersey surname to “Smith, Sr.” when Steve, Jr. was born.
It's my dude's birthday. We made some mistakes along the way, however we couldn't be more proud of the young man you have become. I can't wait to see what the lord has in store for you Peyton Donovan Stevonne Smith. Mom and Dad love you 😍 ❤ ♥ pic.twitter.com/MbsBMAhaG4
— Steve Smith Sr. (@CutToIt) November 9, 2021
The Smith couple established the Steve Smith Family Foundation in 2013. The foundation aims to promote awareness and prevention of domestic violence as well as the well-being of underprivileged families and communities.
The foundation’s After School Enrichment Program (ASEP) focuses on developing the whole child through social and emotional learning, homework and tutoring, meal distribution, and various enrichment opportunities. ASEP began operations in the summer of 2021.
Steve Smith, Sr. began working as an analyst on the NFL Network in 2017.
Steve Smith Sr right now on Mike and Mike is excellent. He has a very bright future as an NFL analyst. pic.twitter.com/JuxJvUWCSw
— Jason Romano (@JasonRomano) January 3, 2017
Smith Sr. wrote an article on NFL.com on May 26, 2020 that listed his top teammates:
- Julius Peppers, defensive end: Smith Sr. predicted Peppers will have his own bust in Canton someday. Pepper’s 159.5 career sacks – including 97 with the Panthers – speak massive volumes. Smith Sr. compared Peppers to a “silent assassin type” who went above and beyond the call of duty during their eight years together with the Panthers.
- Muhsin Muhammad and Ricky Proehl, wide receivers: Muhammad and Proehl had a combined 31 years of NFL experience that made a profound impact on Smith Sr.’s NFL career. Muhammad, who acted as Smith Sr.’s mentor during his rookie season in 2001, constantly pushed him in the weight and film rooms as well as on the field. On the other hand, Proehl taught Smith Sr. every glance, movement, and information he gave to the opposition mattered. Thus, Smith Sr. learned how to become aware of his actions and how each play acted as a precursor to the next one.
- Terrell Suggs, outside linebacker: Suggs was a seven-time Pro Bowler who is currently eighth all-time in sacks with 139.0. Suggs’ locker was next to Smith Sr.’s during their time together in Baltimore. Smith Sr. noticed the comprehensiveness of Suggs’ quarterback tendency playbook and his relentless dedication to film study.
- Greg Olsen, tight end: Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowler, and Smith Sr. were teammates from 2011 to 2013 at Carolina. The latter compared the tight end to “a second quarterback” who never hesitated to call timeout when something was off or correct someone on the sidelines. Olsen’s persuasiveness as a leader stood out for Smith Sr.
- Jordan Gross, tackle: Smith Sr. and Gross played thirteen years together dating back to their college days with the Utah Utes. Gross was a three-time Pro Bowler and vital cog of the Panthers’ offense for years. He and Smith Sr. entered the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor together in October 2019. Smith Sr. wrote he would be honored to have his No. 89 retired along with Gross’ No. 69.
Watch LIVE as we induct the 𝐻𝒶𝓁𝓁 𝑜𝒻 𝐻𝑜𝓃𝑜𝓇 𝒞𝓁𝒶𝓈𝓈 𝑜𝒻 𝟤𝟢𝟣𝟫
🔹Steve Smith Sr.
🔹Wesley Walls https://t.co/j7U4KcLM7H
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 6, 2019
FaceTime was instrumental in Smith Sr’s induction into the Panthers’ Hall of Honor.
Smith Sr. was in Utah for a speaking engagement at a coach’s clinic in the summer of 2019. He was brewing his coffee at a local 7-Eleven – he needed the caffeine jolt because he was following Mountain Time.
All of a sudden, he received a call from Panthers owner David Tepper asking him if he had FaceTime.
Smith Sr. told Tepper he had none.
Tepper asked the Panthers wide receiver legend to download one. Smith Sr. asked his companion if he could use his phone so he could do FaceTime with Tepper.
It turned out Tepper wanted to inform Smith Sr. he was one of the inductees to the Panthers’ Hall of Honor in the fall.
“It’s good to be back,” Smith Sr. told the Panthers owner.
The Pac-12 Hall of Honor inducted Steve Smith, Sr. in March 2019.
Smith Sr. joined the Carolina Panthers broadcast team as a television analyst on June 14, 2021. He joined his long-time friend Taylor Zarzour, the Panthers play-by-play man.
Smith Sr. told the Panthers’ official website he credits Zarzour for his success in sports media.
When it comes to the nitty-gritty of sports broadcasting, Smith Sr. told Panthers.com he enjoys talking about and dissecting football games:
“I enjoy elaborating and talking about ball and explaining ball. I struggle with that sometimes as an analyst, with the shorter segments we do, you don’t really get to talk ball and Xs and Os. That’s one of the things you fight as an analyst, you don’t want to get too technical.”
When Smith worked the press box at the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium almost two months later, he told the team’s official website he “got a little chill” when the stadium announcer mentioned his name to the crowd.
On that same day, Smith made it clear football doesn’t define who he is:
“When I first stopped playing, going out on the field was tough. Now, somebody says, ‘Line up,’ and I’m like, “Please.’ I am happy where I am emotionally and knowing that’s what I used to do, that is not who I am every single day.”
— Steve Smith Sr. (@CutToIt) November 24, 2021
Smith Sr. became a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on November 24, 2021. Smith became eligible for Canton for the first time that year.
Steve Smith, Sr. likes to read during his downtime. He told SI.com in 2014 The Richest Man in Babylon, A Tale of Three Kings, and The Last Lecture are three of his favorite books.
He also loves to travel. He has been to Africa, Italy, China, Australia, Spain, Israel, England, and France.
Smith Sr. also has a collection of quotes from Scripture, football coaches, and various sources in his smartphone. He refers to them during appropriate moments in his life.
According to SI.com, his favorite quote reads:
“Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”
Smith Sr’s hobbies paint an entirely different picture of the fiery persona he portrayed on the gridiron.
“There’s a perception of me that I’m a hothead and an idiot,” he told Bishop. “But look, just because you see me (doing one thing) in my workplace doesn’t mean I walk around stiff-arming people and spinning cantaloupe in the grocery store.”
✂️🚨 NEW EPISODE 🚨✂️
Tomorrow we’re cuttin’ to it with former NFL player, TV personality, and Chef @EddieJackson. Tune into the @BlackEffectPods on @iHeartPodcasts!#Agent89🏈 #CutToIt✂️ #BlackEffect📻 #NewPodcastAlert🚨 pic.twitter.com/zQyBx80mdw
— Steve Smith Sr. (@CutToIt) January 17, 2022
Smith Sr. co-hosts the Cut To It podcast with Gerard Littlejohn.