Smith back in Panthers fold, to receive honor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Steve Smith can finally set aside the bitterness from being released by the Carolina Panthers in March 2014.

The organization announced Monday that their all-time leading wide receiver would be a part of the 2019 Hall of Honor.

Smith joins quarterback Jake Delhomme, tight end Wesley Walls and offensive tackle Jordan Gross as the first players named to the shrine since Sam Mills retired and was honored following the 1997 season.

"It's good to be back,'' Smith told the team. "There's very few things in my life that really make me emotional to where I want to tear up.That penetrates a place I generally don't go.''

Smith was so bitter about being released by then-general manager Dave Gettleman after the 2013 season that he said he told a local radio station that if he got the chance to play against Carolina, everyone should "put on your goggles because there's going to be blood and guts everywhere.''

Smith got his shot at Carolina during the 2014 season when, as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, he had seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

"They didn't even deserve me to spin the ball on them,'' Smith said afterward.

Smith later admitted in the NFL Network's "Steve Smith: A Football Life'' that his release was personal and that he "bumped heads'' with quarterback Cam Newton.

"We bumped heads for the obvious reasons,'' Smith said. "He's the first pick and he was a star where he was. I was 31 years old. I had three kids. So we were two different people in two different phases of their life.''

Gross said Smith's lack of patience with Newton was a factor in the decision to release him.

"Really, I think the organization felt for Cam to flourish they needed Steve to step down,'' he told the NFL Network.

Said former Carolina wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl, "Emotionally, it was hard for everybody because of what he'd done for this organization, the impact he's had in the community.''

Much of Smith's anger was directed at Gettleman because there was no advance notice of his release before it became public knowledge. Smith heard the news on a Charlotte radio station.

Being selected to the Hall of Honor by new owner David Tepper has helped heal old wounds.

"For some, long overdue,'' Smith said. "For others, surprised just as much as me. Some maybe didn't foresee that this would ever come to fruition, the reconnecting.''

In 13 seasons for Carolina, Smith became the team's all-time leader in touchdowns (67), receptions (836) and receiving yards (12,197). He will be honored at an induction ceremony during a game this season.

"I had 'Sr.' on the back of my jersey because we have a 4-year-old, Steve Smith Jr.,'' Smith said. "This will be the only time that he's able to kind of remember what dad used to do. It's a chapter that's closed, but in the next chapter, a little piece gives him an opportunity to experience what his three siblings have experienced. My youngest knows nothing about daddy and football.

"Mr. Tepper has given me the opportunity to connect those dots, to complete that sentence."