CHARLOTTE – “It’s good to be back.”
Words we all have been waiting to hear from Steve Smith Sr. – one of if not the most beloved Panther ever.
He said those words to David Tepper after the Panthers owner FaceTimed him to share the news that he was going into Carolina’s expanded Hall of Honor.
“There’s very few things in my life that really make me emotional to where I want to tear up,” Smith told Tepper. “That penetrates a place I generally don’t go.”
Smith and the Panthers have been gradually reconnecting after the club released him following the 2013 season. Carolina’s all-time leading receiver attended a practice during the 2018 season and served as honorary captain later in the year when the Panthers hosted New Orleans on Monday Night Football.
But he still wasn’t fully back. He is now.
“For some, long overdue. For others, surprised just as much as me. Some maybe didn’t foresee that this would ever come to fruition, the reconnecting,” Smith said.
“All in all, it’s a great day for everybody.”
Especially for Smith’s family. Three of his four children experienced what it was like to see dad dominate on the gridiron. But his youngest knows nothing of it.
That’ll change when Smith is immortalized in Panthers lore.
“I had “Sr” on the back of my jersey because we have a 4-year-old, Steve Smith Jr. This will be the only time that he’s able to kind of remember what dad used to do,” Smith said. “It’s a chapter that’s closed, but in the next chapter, a little piece gives him an opportunity to experience what his three siblings have experienced. My youngest knows nothing about daddy and football.
“Mr. Tepper has given me the opportunity to connect those dots, to complete that sentence.”
At some point, Steve Smith Jr. will probably go to YouTube and watch highlights of his dad in amazement. He’ll see the game-breaking explosiveness, the stunning power, the strong hands. He’ll also see that relentless intensity – Smith’s real trademark.
But away from the field, Smith tries to keep those emotions in check.
Thinking about seeing his name on the stadium facade and sharing that moment with his kids? There’s no way the emotions can stay bottled up.
“It’s hard to think about it because of the emotion around it. So I try not to think about it too much,” Smith said. “People think with the way I played that I am an emotional person, but that part of me I try not to display a lot.
“But this hit me in the heart. It hit me between the eyes a little bit. It was something I really wasn’t anticipating.”
Welcome back, Steve. For good.
A look at some of the best pictures of Steve Smith during his career with the Panthers.