O, by the Way

The Kickoff

May 10, 2007|By BILL ORDINE

I like Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. For a lot of reasons.

You might have heard that Smith signed a contract extension with the Panthers that keeps him in Carolina through 2012 and re portedly pays him an average of $9 million a year. If he spends his entire career with one team and retires a Panther, he will be a rare breed of cat indeed in today's NFL. His ambition, he said, is to be one of the first Carolina Pan thers to make the Hall of Fame.

But I like Smith because:

He's proof that a relatively nor mal-sized person (5 feet 9, 185 pounds) can play and star in the NFL. He has 186 catches for more than 2,700 yards and 20 touch downs during the past two seasons.

He plays the game with exuber ance and showmanship without necessarily showing up other peo ple. I loved that snow angel thing, and the fireman pole slide was hilarious.

And finally, he realizes that he needed to grow up and that he is truly lucky to have had this op portunity to play a game (albeit a rough one) for a living. Tuesday, he referred to himself jokingly as a "knucklehead from L.A." You know, the guy who once punched a teammate in a film session. But now, Smith recognizes the privi lege of it all. "To live in a house and to drive a car, I didn't even get my license until I was 22 years old," he said. "All of those things, it's just that feeling that you're waiting for somebody to wake you up."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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