Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: A visit with an injured, but not slowed, Steve Smith

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith sits on the field after being injured in a game against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 13, 2004.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith sits on the field after being injured in a game against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 13, 2004.

Editor’s note: This column originally published on Oct. 7, 2004.

Steve Smith doesn’t come to the front door of his large house on crutches Wednesday afternoon. He comes on a Roll-A-Bout, which looks like a four-wheeled stroller for adults.

Smith, 25, rests his left leg, the one with the broken fibula and ligament damage in the ankle, on a foam rubber pad and uses his right leg to propel the stroller across the hardwood floor.

“I’m feeling good, “ he says as he returns to his sofa and McDonald’s sandwich and fries.

But not so good he can guarantee he will return to the Carolina Panthers this season.

“I don’t know,” says Smith, who was injured Sept. 13 in the fourth quarter of the opener against Green Bay. “I want to be smart about it. It’s not like I just got a break. It’s beyond a break.”

What do your instincts tell you?

“I have no clue,” says Smith, who wears a gray T-shirt, gray warm-up pants, gray cap and dark blue WWJD bracelet. “I can’t say I’ll be back and I can’t say I’m not going to be back. I have to think about long term.

“I come back a month early and go out there and run a route and I’m timid and bang, I blow out my knee. I lose, the Panthers lose, everybody loses, and then I’m the dummy for coming back too early and our team trainers look like they don’t know what they’re doing.”

His light blue cast, which is signed by wife, Angie, son Peyton, 6 (who adds #9, the number he wears in soccer), and daughter Baylee, 3, runs from the middle of his calf almost to his toes. A boot will replace the cast in about a week and a half. The boot, which will force him to keep his weight off the leg, will be removed after about 2 1/2 weeks. Then he can stop putting on shoe and start putting on shoes.

A receiver, Smith was the team’s best offensive player last season and he had a superb training camp and preseason. Then came the tackle by former teammate Hannibal Naives, whom Smith says is on his “to-do list.”

Smith had surgery the next day.

“The hours before surgery, I’m sitting in bed hurting and I was kind of upset,” he says. “But there’s a reason why this probably happened.”

He told himself: “Deal with it, shut your mouth and enjoy the time with your family. I get to eat lunch with my son once a week, my daughter comes home (from school) to daddy every day.”

What are Sundays like?

“I go to church and watch the game,” Smith says. “I’m learning some things. Sharpening my tools. I don’t watch the defensive line or the offensive line or the quarterback. I watch corners and the receivers. As a player, I was just doing things. But now I have the opportunity to analyze.”

Smith says once more that things don’t happen randomly. I don’t agree. He doesn’t agree with me. We debate the issue with so much civility it doesn’t feel like a debate.

Smith’s goals this season were more touchdowns, fewer drops and 1,000 winter coats. He wanted to collect the coats under the auspices of the Posey Foundation, started this offseason with his wife, Angie, it is named after Smith’s childhood friend Demetrius Posey, who died in a car accident last year.

At this point Angie enters the house, and Smith proudly says, “She doesn’t look like she’s 11 weeks pregnant, does she?”

One thousand coats is considerable. Why not think big? When weather turns cold, many folks lack the means to keep themselves and their families warm.

The $5,000 Smith collected for appearing at Circuit City and the money he receives for his weekly work with WFNZ-AM goes straight to the foundation. He bought 80 coats online for $2,900.

“See those,” Smith says, pointing to two big cardboard boxes near the front door. “I just went to Wal-Mart and bought 34 coats. I cleaned Wal-Mart out!”

If you would like to fill more boxes, don’t send money. Send coats.

“The only thing I am being very picky about is it can’t be one of those beat-up coats that’s been sitting next to oil cans in the garage the whole time, “ Smith says.

Across from the boxes is a wheel chair. Man, I can’t see you in that. With a quick first hop, Smith jumps off the Roll-A-Bout and on one leg skips into the chair. “I played my son in basketball in this,” he says.

What’s your game like?

Smith backs the chair in toward an imaginary basket, backs the chair in, spins left, spins right, spins left and puts up a hook shot no 6-year-old can contain let alone stop.

“I beat him 4-1,” Smith says.

It’s not Denver. But for now it’s enough.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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