Thursday, August 13, 2015

Steve Smith: One of the last of his kind

This week, Baltimore Ravens Wide Receiver Steve Smith Sr. announced that 2015 will be his last year playing in the NFL and he would retire at season’s end.  Smith’s announcement is more than just another talented player saying his career is ending, he is one of the last of his breed of Wide Receivers.  While many of today’s big name route runners are known best for their speed, hands, or after catch talents, Smith is more than just another talented receiver: he is a competitor.

The truth is that many of today’s “Diva Stars” who play as an NFL Wide Receiver get by on talent and hard work but lack the competitive edge of men like Steve Smith.  Thirty years ago the star skill position on offense was Running Back.  Hall of Famers such as Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Walter Payton dominated on the NFL gridiron.  Meanwhile the next group of superstars were making themselves known to college coaches, Guys such as Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith and Jerome Bettis.  But the 1990s brought us a new breed of Wide Receiver; guys with talent whose competitive edge made them elite players.  Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, and Isaac Bruce did more than just put of big numbers, they earned that respect by the way they prepared for each game and competed each week.

Steve Smith Sr. worked his way from Santa Monica College to transfer to Division 1 University of Utah then later impressed NFL scouts leading up to the 2001 NFL Draft.  One NFL scout described Smith in 2001 as “just another short, speedster who is too small to play Running Back”; but this was just the tip of the iceberg of who Smith is.  What made Smith into a 5-time Pro Bowler who eight times in his 13 year career totaled a minimum of 1,000 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns is his competitive spirit.  This is a player who doesn’t play football for the fame and money but plays because he thrives off proving the doubters wrong. He fights for every yard and gives his all to his teammates.  There’s a good reason why former teammate Carolina Panthers Defensive End Charles Johnson said, “He is one of the most competitive people I have ever been around.”

This competitive spirit and relentless work ethic is what sets Smith apart from many of his younger contemporaries.  So many of today’s “superstar” NFL Wide Receivers lack the competitive drive of players of yesteryear.  Many of today’s players think they are stars and want to be treated as such; these guys know they are talented and are unabashed in talking about how special they are.  Many of today’s NFL Wide Receivers saw and read parts of Keyshawn Johnson’s book “Just Give Me The Damn Ball” thinking or believing that, “I can be as good as Keyshawn. That’s right, give me the ball!” without knowing how hard Johnson worked making a name for himself in college and the NFL.

Similar to Pros such as Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith Sr. knows that having talent is not enough to be successful in the NFL.  While Smith was not a “model citizen” in his early years, with age came maturity and he learned how to channel his passion into success on the football field.   Young athletes need to stop looking up to the flamboyant “superstars” who get by on talent and attitude for their success.  Smith is a throwback whose work ethic on and off the field made him into the player he is today.  Entering 2015 Smith is ranked top 20 All-Time in Receiving Yards (13,262), Receptions (915), and All-Purpose Yards (17,679).  On top of that, he is ten receiving touchdowns away from ending his career in the top 20 ranked in that statistical category as well.

For me, I will be sure to enjoy Smith’s final season, just like I did Ray Lewis’ final run, because players with Smith’s competitive nature and love of the game of football are uncommon in today’s world of the “Superstar” Pro Athlete.

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