Steve Smith was skeptical when coach Ron Rivera arrived in town before last season. Smith had just endured the most miserable, Clausen-y season in NFL history with the 2010 Carolina Panthers. He wanted to win again.
"It's not necessarily that I didn't want to rebuild -- it's just that in this game you have a short opportunity. The day that I can't catch a football or run a route, they're gonna take Old Yeller behind the barn and blow his brains out -- right?"
"So why is it any different -- as we call this a business -- to (question the) product, to expect the assembly line to have efficient workers?" Smith asked Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports in a terrific piece. "The only thing I wanted to do is play football. Would you say the 2010 Carolina Panthers were a football team? I don't know what it was; all I know is it wasn't football. And so I wanted to get an opportunity, and I think not just me, other guys. There are a lot of guys who wanted to play ball."
The quote above is why we can't help but love Smith as much as we do any NFL player. His passion for the game comes through in every route run, in every colorful quote. Old freaking Yeller. Awesome. He wound up staying in Carolina, of course, with Cam Newton's help. Newton immediately lobbied Smith to stay in town.
Newton rewarded Smith by helping him to a resurgent season that put him back in discussion as one of the NFL's top-five receivers. Smith's dark days at the end of the John Fox era are all but a distant memory. Or not.
Smith believes his former coaches portrayed an exaggerated picture of his conflict with the organization.
"I think the old regime did a very good job of planting whatever seed they wanted to plant," Smith says. "Things have to grow from somewhere. The seed doesn't just sprout up by itself, does it? ... I know for a fact that things were said that I'll just say were interesting."
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.