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Sorensen: Steve Smith remembers past, sees promise in Charlotte future

This season will be Steve Smith’s 13th in the NFL and 13th with Carolina. The only other players on the Panther roster with more than 10 seasons of NFL experience are Jordan Gross and Drayton Florence (11) and Dwan Edwards and Ben Hartsock (10).

How many more seasons will you play?

“I would try to get 15 or 16 and that’s really it,” Smith says as he walks off the field after last week’s mini-camp.

Which means you’ll play until 2015 or 2016.

“I want to play that long,” he says. “I’m in the part of my career where I want to be part of something that’s great that, once I’m done playing, I can say, ‘Hey, I was part of that.’”

When he retires Smith, 34, plans to stay in Charlotte and around the Panthers, not as a coach but as a radio personality.

On Jan. 13, he reported to sports talk WFNZ’s The Drive as an intern. He learned to work the board. He assisted with pre-recorded interviews. He picked up the phone and asked callers their name, town and the subject they wanted to talk about. He mined the Whiner Line for one of the show’s stars, QCB.

A question some radio interns also ask: “Was that one cream and one sugar, Mr. James?”

There is no record of Smith asking this.

He probably did 25 four-hour radio gigs. He was Steve Smith, star receiver. He also was Steve Smith, sports fan who relied on a large flat screen, TiVo, HD and extensive rewind before he drove to the studio.

“He would come in with copious notes,” says Taylor Zarzour who, with Marc James, hosts The Drive. “He’d text me on weekends and ask what he should watch – the Masters, college basketball, the NCAA tournament? He’s competitive in the studio, too. He wants to be prepared.”

The frustration, says Smith, is after preparing, callers would drive the show in a direction he hadn’t anticipated and a subject he hadn’t researched.

“With March Madness there wasn’t enough TiVo, there weren’t enough eyes, to be abreast of everything,” he says. “There was too much going on, and I felt like I was always unprepared because I was always missing something.”

Smith presumably could parlay his experience into a national TV gig. But he doesn’t want to leave Charlotte for another market or even to call NFL games every weekend. In sports talk radio, he can dig in.

“I think Charlotte has enough sports at the high school and professional level,” Smith says. “And I actually think high school sports don’t get as much recognition as they should.”

Smith was drafted in 2001. How long ago was 2001?

At the beginning of the year Bill Clinton was still President. “Gladiator” won five Oscars. Baltimore won the Super Bowl. Arizona won the World Series. Los Angeles (not the Clippers) won the NBA championship.

The 2001 draft would have been the best in Panthers history if first-round pick Dan Morgan and second-round pick Kris Jenkins had sustained their health. Smith went in the third round, Chris Weinke the fourth.

In 2003 all four of them went through the playoffs, beating Dallas, St. Louis, Philadelphia and advancing to Houston for Super Bowl XXXVIII, where they lost a thrilling game to New England.

Ricky Proehl, who now coaches Carolina’s receivers, ran precise patterns for the team.

“Coach Proehl and I talk about those old times in the Super Bowl and the playoffs and the routes,” says Smith. “Those will be the memories I have of playing. Yes, I have some things that aren’t fond and aren’t good. But I also have some great memories and I just want to go out with some more great memories.”

We walk up the hill from the practice field and reach the stadium.

“And I remember how this community was when we were on the Super Bowl and playoff runs,” Smith says. “And I don’t care what New York says, I don’t care, being from Los Angeles, what Los Angeles says. Charlotte was the place to be.

“Man, this city was on fire. Charity events were selling (team) auction items like hotcakes. It was just a fun city to be in, and I would love to be a part of that as a player and as a radio personality because I know how fun that is.”

How much fun would it be to spend a career with one team, and leave it with a ring?

“Who does not want to have the picture-perfect career right at the end?” Smith asks. “Everybody does. That’s why a few more years and really just let it go, you know, I don’t want to be a guy hanging on. Or a guy that’s playing just to play to get – ‘Oh, I want to play 20 years’ and for the next seven years I’m playing for nine different teams.”

Smith has three children, the youngest of whom, Boston, is eight.

“He’s a Panther fan and I say that because he’s raised here, he’s born here,” says Smith. “He’s not just a Steve Smith fan. He’s a Cam Newton fan, he’s a Luke Kuechly fan, he’s a Jon Beason fan, he’s a Thomas Davis fan.

“He knows all these guys. He knows the rookie guys, he knows the vets, he knows the middle-aged guys, he knows the players who have been here two or three years.

“Boston has two jerseys he wears when he gets up. He’ll wear the Panther jersey or he’ll throw on a Bobcats’ jersey, now the Hornets.”

Unlike radio Steve Smith, Boston doesn’t have to worry about multiple teams.

Charlotte’s teams are his teams. It’s that simple.

“And that’s huge,” Steve Smith says.

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