If this is Steve Smith Week in Charlotte, Wednesday is Steve Smith Day in Owings Mills, the suburb where the Baltimore Ravens practice.
Smith played 13 seasons for Carolina. He is the best player in team history. The Panthers released him last spring, and he has played three games for Baltimore. He is the best receiver on Baltimore’s roster, and so far, perhaps, the best player.
A microphone is set up near the Ravens’ practice field. Coach John Harbaugh, linebacker Courtney Upshaw and quarterback Joe Flacco speak.
Then it’s Smith’s turn. The warm-up acts have departed. The show begins.
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“I just want to get the game over with and move on, to be honest,” Smith says about Sunday’s game with the Panthers. “I’m in the AFC and I think that was a great decision and that was a Brainiac decision by me. It was a well thought-out plan more than I even thought when I went through the process.”
You don’t want the game over with. So why do you say that?
“Honestly, I never really envisioned that I would be in a different uniform, in a different city,” Smith says. “It’s really eye-opening and you know you’re in a place for 13 years and now you’re in a different place.”
He says he often leaves the other receivers, goes off by himself and thinks about where he is and how he arrived.
“For 13 years (practice) would be Johnson & Wales culinary school and (from) the practice field you could smell them cooking and all that stuff,” Smith says. “And people walking by and that’s not there anymore. It’s different, a different place.”
Baltimore’s practice facility looks like the football equivalent of Hoosiers, with goalposts on the side of the field instead of baskets. Instead of buildings and fans, there are trees.
A reporter tells Smith he has played well for the Ravens.
“Really?” Smith says, feigning surprise. “A 35-year-old guy shouldn’t be doing it, right?”
Somebody tells Smith he doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. The guy doesn’t know Smith
“You’ve got to prove something every week,” Smith says. “You’ve got to prove can you beat that opponent. Can you beat that guy? Can you beat zone coverage? Can you beat man coverage?
“Every week it’s a different opponent, it’s a different challenge and so that’s always going to be there. That’s the great part about sports. Sports give you the opportunity to do what sports reporters can not do.
“That felt good saying that.”
Harbaugh suggested Monday that Smith could shock the world if he didn’t talk this week.
“I mean, I may say some things,” Smith says. “But honestly, if I run across the middle and (linebacker) Thomas Davis, who I love, tries to crack back on me I’ll go, ‘Hey, hey. It’s like practice. Look – do I hit you or do you want to hit me now?’ ”
“But it’s going to be fun. … I’ve been playing with Thomas for almost 10 years. So this will be the first time I played against him. But that relationship hasn’t changed.”
His relationship with the Panthers has. Is he bitter?
“No,” Smith says. “I mean, I don’t think anybody, unless you hate your job … that’s been let go, fired or released goes, ‘Yayyyyy.’ So I was taken back by it.
“But you know, I took my time to kind of reflect and kind of see it and, you know, I’ll be honest. I knew a long time ago. I knew when I had my meeting (early last March) with (Carolina general manager Dave) Gettleman what was going to happen. And that’s what happened. And I walked out of there with dignity, and I held my head up high and me and my family decided we’ll handle it the way we chose to handle it. And I tried to be an example for my kids.
“We sat down as a family, we prayed, we thought about it and we discussed it. And my wife cried, my kids cried. I shed a few tears. And then we got back up and dusted ourselves off and said, ‘What is the plan for the Smith family?’ and we moved forward and it got me here.”
By here , Smith could mean with Flacco. Smith has praised Flacco several times, most recently for his sense of calm.
Smith says he and the receivers played terribly at the start of their first exhibition and he expected Flacco to tear them up. Flacco didn’t. He merely told them to go out and do their jobs.
I ask Smith if Flacco is the best quarterback with whom he has played.
“The best quarterback I’ve ever played with – like I said when they asked me about Cam (Newton) – would be Jake Delhomme,” Smith says. “Because we went to the Super Bowl together. And until it’s surpassed, that’s who will always be my best quarterback.”
“It doesn’t matter – Charlotte Observer,” Smith says.
Can you imagine the Baltimore huddle Sunday? Will Flacco listen to his most productive receiver?
“No,” Flacco says calmly. “If I pay attention to that maniac, who knows how I’m going to play? He’s going to want the ball probably every single down, and if I don’t give it to him and I pay attention to how he reacts then I’m going to be in trouble, and I’m going to feel bad and were not going to play the way we should.”
Hey, Steve, your quarterback called you a maniac.
“Man, you know I’m here to play ball,” Smith says. “And I enjoy playing ball and I play with a passion. … I know when I’m on your team you love me. When I’m not on your team you despise me.”