Wide receiver Steve Smith will forever be synonymous with Carolina Panthers football.
He ranks first in team history with 67 receiving touchdowns, 836 receptions, 12,197 receiving yards, a 14.59-yard receiving average and 43 games with 100 or more receiving yards. In 13 seasons with Carolina (one of which was spent as a kick returner and another on injured reserve), Smith led the Panthers in catches nine times and receiving yards 10 times.
Despite Carolina's short (by NFL standards) 19-year history, the Panthers' record books have already been written and will probably not be re-written for a very long time when it comes to the team's all-time receiving records.
A third-round draft choice by Carolina from Utah in 2001, Smith quickly (a reference to his speed and immediate impact) made his mark, returning the opening kickoff of his rookie season for a touchdown and going on to earn selection to the Pro Bowl as a returner.
But Smith was not satisfied. One of the most competitive individuals to ever wear a Panthers uniform, he wanted to not just play wide receiver but be an elite wide receiver.
Somebody who practices just as hard as he plays, Smith worked tirelessly to attain that level and continued to work hard to maintain that level. His efforts paid off with four Pro Bowl appearances as a wide receiver in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011. Overall, Smith's totals place him 11th in NFL history for 100-yard receiving games, 19th for receiving yards and 25th for catches.
A fiery individual, Smith plays the game with unbridled emotion and passion. During his time with the Panthers, he could change the game with a single play or take over a game for that matter. There are many extraordinary moments.
• In the 2003 NFC Divisional Playoff at the St. Louis Rams, Smith made arguably the most significant play in franchise history with a 69-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second overtime to send Carolina to the NFC Championship.
• In the 2005 NFC Divisional Playoff at the Chicago Bears following a regular season in which Smith led or tied for the league lead in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, he almost single-handedly propelled the Panthers to the NFC Championship with an amazing 218 yards and two touchdowns on 12 catches.
• During the 2013 regular season at Miami late in the fourth quarter, he kept the game-winning drive alive with a 19-yard reception on fourth-and-10 from the Carolina 20-yard line.
Smith's memories will last forever in the minds of Panthers' fans. His records will be difficult to break. However, records are made to be broken just as players must be replaced.
In this day and age, very few players play their entire career with the same team. Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice did not end his career with the San Francisco 49ers, and quarterback Peyton Manning spent 14 years with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos.
Smith helped the lay the foundation for Carolina. Without him, the Panthers would not be where they are. His legacy is undeniable. But as is the case with any building, stadium or team, there comes a time when parts must be replaced or changes must be made.
So today, with the release of Smith after 13 memorable seasons in Carolina, this chapter ends and the next chapter begins in Panthers history.