When a player gets released by a team -- especially one who has been with the organization for a long time -- it's painful and can often lead to bitter feelings. That's why gestures, like the one by former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith, really stand out.
Smith, 35, who had been with the Steelers for 13 years, bought a full-page ad in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to say goodbye to the organization and its fans. The last Steelers player to do this was Alan Faneca in 2008, according to the Post-Gazette.
A 1999 fourth-round draft pick by the Steelers out of Northern Colorado, Smith was possibly the most unheralded figure on the Steelers' defenses. From 2000 to 2008, when Smith had double-digit starts, Pittsburgh ranked in the top 10 in defense all nine years including four as the top-ranked unit. During his career, Smith had at least four sacks in six seasons and is 10th on the team's all-time list with 44.
But injuries lessened his impact in recent years. Smith's 2011 season ended in October when he was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury. It was the third straight season that injuries have limited Smith. He played in only 11 games spanning the 2009 and 2010 seasons because of shoulder and triceps injuries and appeared in just four in 2011.
Here is what Smith wrote in the ad today:
Dear Steelers Fans,
As of today, I am no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I leave the field and Steelers with no regrets, and am grateful to have played for such a tremendous organization. I feel truly blessed to have spent my entire professional career in the best town, playing for the most loyal fans who have loved and supported myself and my family.
The last 13 years of our lives have been special because of the people who cheered me on, and I am truly fortunate to have been a part of the Steelers, the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers Nation. You have opened your arms and your hearts to us as a family and we will never forget that. Your support, enthusiasm, love and dedication are gifts I will carry with me my entire life.
I may no longer be on the Steelers active roster, but I will always be a Steeler and will never forget the people who made it all worthwhile -- the fans, the Rooneys, the front office, the equipment guys and trainers, my teammates and family. Thank you for supporting me over the last 13 years, and I hope you will support me in whatever future path life will take me on.
We plan on making Pittsburgh our home and I will endeavor for the rest of my days to find a way to thank each and every one of you personally for all that you have done and meant for me and my family. You cheered for me for 13 years and now I cheer for you for the rest of my life. You will always be in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to have the job of a lifetime. You will always be in my heart.
Your friend always,
Aaron Smith and Family, No. 91