When Steve Smith was setting return records as a rookie for the Panthers a decade ago, he told anyone who would listen that he was "a receiver, not a return specialist."
In retrospect, the ever-confident Smith may have undersold his abilities. Calling him a receiver is like calling the late Frank Sinatra a singer. Smith is not "a" receiver; he is one of the best receivers in NFL history.
It is not open for debate - not in a bar, not on talk radio - because the numbers are the verification. The only question would be where he ranks.
That will be determined in time, but let's check out where he is today. Last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Smith became the 35th player in NFL history to record 10,000 receiving yards. By the end of the game he was No. 34, moving past Shannon Sharpe.
By the end of the year, he could be No. 33 (Andre Rison) or even at No. 32 (Lance Alworth) with a couple more games like last week.
However, receiving yards isn't the only list Smith is climbing. He is 13 receptions from also becoming the 35th player in the league to reach 700 catches. If he gets there this season, Smith will pass Muhsin Muhammad for most receptions ever as a Panther.
Muhammad, who is 16th in NFL history in catches (860) and 23rd in yards (11,438), had 696 receptions as a Panther while Smith will face the Houston Texans on Sunday with 687.
As Smith joins increasingly exclusive company, he brings a different profile than most of the members. Unlike many of his brethren in the top 35, Smith was not a high-round selection. Twenty-one of the 35 to reach 10,000 receiving yards were drafted in the first or second round.
Smith and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward are the only two third-rounders to crash the party. Smith also shares another distinction with Ward, having played for only one team throughout his career. That makes him one of only seven players with 10,000 career yards to spend his career with his original team.
Unlike Ward, who has played almost exclusively with Ben Roethlisberger the last eight years, Smith has played with an array of quarterbacks. From 2003 through 2006, Jake Delhomme – now a Texans reserve - was a constant for Smith. But before and after that time, there was Delhomme, Chris Weinke, Rodney Peete, David Carr, Matt Moore, Vinny Testaverde and Jimmy Clausen among others.
Now Smith and rookie Cam Newton have connected in a way that has brought Smith's star back to light, helping him rank second in the NFL in receiving yards and yards per catch.
By enjoying one of best his seasons, Smith has reminded anyone who will listen that his amazing career is not over yet.
Director of Communications Charlie Dayton has worked 34 years in the NFL. Before joining the Panthers in 1994, he was VP of Communications for the Washington Redskins. Dayton has worked on the NFL media staff for 25 Super Bowls, is a past winner of the Horrigan Award and was recently recognized with the National Association of Black Journalists Merit Award.