Ron Rivera: Steve Smith should retire as a Panther

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Steve Smith Sr. expressed hard and angry feelings, many directed at general manager Dave Gettleman, when the Carolina Panthers released him following the 2013 season.

As the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver plans to make Sunday’s regular-season finale at Cincinnati his last in the NFL there’s only one logical team to have his name attached to on the retirement papers.


“That’s up to Steve," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday. “I think he should, though. Think of all the years he played here. But it’s up to him."

Smith, 37, played his first 13 seasons with the Panthers after being selected in the third round of the 2001 draft out of Utah. He holds the franchise records for receptions (836), receiving yards (12,197) and receiving touchdowns (67).

His 69-yard touchdown catch in double overtime to end a 2003 divisional playoff game at St. Louis is arguably the most memorable in team history.

He ranks as one of the team’s top all-time players with linebacker Sam Mills, quarterback Cam Newton, defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Thomas Davis.

So when Smith makes his retirement official – and he says he’s 89 percent (his jersey number) sure it will happen – he needs to put aside those hard feelings and sign a one-day contract with the Panthers.

“He’ll decide what he wants to do, and he’s earned the right," Rivera said.

Rivera admits Smith’s fiery attitude challenged him as a first-time head coach when he took over the Panthers in 2011. Smith admitted in the NFL Network’s “Steve Smith: A Football Life," that his strained relationship with Newton played a role in Gettleman’s decision to release him with a year left on his deal.

"Really, I think the organization felt like for Cam to flourish they needed Steve to step down," former Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross told the NFL Network for the Smith story. "It wasn't an easy decision."

Said wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl, “Emotionally, it was hard for everybody because of what he's done for this organization, the impact he's had in the community. He's the best Panther to step foot in Bank of America Stadium, but I think everybody understood that he probably needed a change.

"It was probably good for everybody."

Now it would be best for everyone to make up and let Smith retire where he belongs, where he still lives during the offseason with his family.

There’s obvious respect for Smith, from Rivera to Newton.

Rivera called Smith a future Hall of Famer.

“He’s a dynamic, fiery player that plays every play the way it should be played," Rivera said. “That’s probably the biggest thing about him that I remember, how hard he played the game, how much he wanted to win."

Newton called Smith a “fierce competitor," as many have.

“There’s not a lot of guys you look down a dark alley and say, ‘I want to bring this person. I want to bring that person,’" he said. “Steve Smith is one of those guys you better make sure he’s on your team, not against, because I’ve seen both of them."

In what was billed the “blood and guts" game when Baltimore played Carolina in Smith’s first year with the Ravens, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver had seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ rout.

“I would prefer him being on my team," Newton said.

To be on Newton's team when he retires, Smith will have to put aside the anger he had in the spring of 2014 and convince the Panthers he wants to retire as a member of the organization.

It shouldn’t be hard to do based on what Rivera said. And Smith remains loyal to team owner Jerry Richardson, who has been like a father figure to him.

“There’s still 11 percent [chance he won’t retire]," Rivera said jokingly. “You never know. But he’s earned the right."