I was a big Playstation 2 guy, still am. My go-to’s were Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solid and various adventure games- but in 2006, I decided to diversify my video game palette. I happened to buy NFL Street 3 and Madden ’06 together and switch the disks in and out as if I was in a race against myself. Learning the different styles and strategies of the game of football quickly became my passion.
At the time I did not cheer for a particular team or even watched football. Growing up in New Jersey, I had some Eagles fans in my family but ehh. I simply did not want to become an Eagles fan because I wanted to be “that guy.”
I shuffled through different rosters. Played with certain players. I knew there had to be one I could connect with. Agent 89 was one of the top receivers in 2005-2006 so naturally his speed in both games made him a cheat code. It got to the point where I would change Smith’s route to a “Go” route (go straight) every. single. time. And once I learned about his personality … I found my guy - and my squad.
Smith was a third round pick in 2001 by Carolina and began his career as a kick return specialist. The very first time he touched the ball he returned a kick to the house in ’01. He was always told he was too small or too slow to become an elite WR in the NFL. He stands at 5’9”. As he progressed and became a starting wide receiver, he was a natural trash talker to the camera and had extremely underrated touchdown celebrations throughout his career. (wiping the bottom of the football with his towel like it was a baby / rowing the boat / “When you see this face, that means I scored.” *same game* “When you see this face AGAIN, that means I scored AGAIN.”)
In the Fall of ’06 I was in 4th grade and I wanted one thing for Christmas that year. Grandmom Jeanne came in clutch (as always) and gifted me with my first football jersey – the one with the number 89 on the front and back. I made sure I wore my Steve Smith jersey AT LEAST once a week to school – not only to show everyone I rooted for another team, but to represent the chip one man could carry on his shoulder (and I never really saw someone under 6’ ft dominate anything athletically).
I credit my passion for video games for bringing football into my life. I began to buy old Madden’s (2001 was the earliest) and memorize the Panthers roster on each game. Learning the Panthers were in the Super Bowl a few seasons prior was pretty cool but that also ignited by HATRED towards the Patriots due to our defeat in Superbowl 38.
The collection of football cards eventually followed and you could imagine that I collected all of the Steve Smith cards I could get my hands on (50+ Smith cards I still have). 89 became my favorite number, teal blue my favorite color etc.
With knowing so much team history, I found out the Panthers were established the year I was born so I naturally questioned if Carolina was meant to be my team - but its not that serious lmao (is it?). Watching dudes come and go like Ken Lucas, Dwayne Jarrett, Everett Brown, and Charles Godfrey not reach their expected potential taught me patience and allowed me to build a “trust the process” mentality with a sports team in hopes of winning a championship.
Fast forward to the year 2011. The Panthers drafted who I thought was the piece of the puzzle Smith needed to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Cam Newton paired with an aging Steve Smith was my last and only hope.
After 13 seasons, after the 2013 season, Carolina released agent 89. Just three seasons into Cam Newton’s career. Smith “wasn’t good for Cam’s development” or some bullshit like that.
Business was business I guess.
Knowing Smith’s personality as well as I studied it, I knew 89 was going to sign with a team that played Carolina the following season out of spite.
I never wanted the Panthers to lose a game in my life - but my heart was in a different place for this game. When Carolina traveled to Baltimore to face the Ravens, I was hoping to see Steve Smith (Sr.) have the game of his life. He eventually scored twice and the camera (naturally) found its way to Smith on the sideline. “Put the nail in the coffin,” Smith says as he grips an invisible hammer. “And take your ass back to Carolina. Check my lawn for me while you’re out there, keep it clean for me.”
I will never forget where I was when Smith announced his retirement. Luckily enough, Cam Newton becoming a superstar eased my pain while I watched my idol hang it up.
The Panthers recently released Cam Newton, who elevated my passion for my favorite team to a level I never thought could be reached.
But unfortunately, business was business - again.
Not sure where Super Cam will end up but there may be one more game in the near future that I root against my Panthers.
There’s a new regime in Carolina starting this season after a clean sweep of players and front office personnel throughout the organization. However, I’ve seen something like this before. In 2010, I witnessed Jimmy Clausen and the misery of the 2-14 season set the foundation for an MVP Cam Newton to eventually carry the Panthers to a Super Bowl – just five years later.
The emotional roller coaster of watching your favorite athletes come and go becomes debilitating- especially when you connect certain points in your life to the same time frame of players highlights.
At this point, I’m stuck on this roller coaster. I’ve come to accept that the whirlwinds of this ride will all be worth it when the city of Charlotte claims a Lombardi trophy - that will ultimately bring this loyal Panthers fan eternal happiness.
but until that happens, the motto will remain the same…
to Keep Pounding.