Those who have witnessed his game-wrecking ability year-in and year-out inherently understand the greatest player in Carolina Panthers history has been one of the most iconic, unstoppable 100-yard forces of his generation.
Ever the showman, Smith promptly vowed on Tuesday's edition of the The Rich Eisen Show to "wound, damage and puncture" opponents while playing with "house money" on his way out of the league.
Make no mistake, Smith can still make a defense pay in the twilight phase of his career. When Cam Newton replaced an inept Jimmy Clausen in 2011, an over-30 Smith finished fifth and 12th in receiving yards the next two years, placing behind only Calvin Johnson in pass plays over 20 yards during that span. He's now coming off one of the most productive age-35 seasons in NFL history.
Smith has been so steadily effective through a lengthy decline phase that we tend to forget he was the picture of compact explosiveness during his prime.
If the analytics site, Pro Football Focus, had been around when Smith was the NFL's premier wide receiver from 2005-2008, their metrics would have backed up what the film showed: Smith was not only the game's most lethal run-after-catch threat, but also boasted an astonishing vertical leap and my-ball mentality to high-point contested passes with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss.
Who else makes that play?
For a half-decade there was no scarier sight for defensive backs than Smith's high-octane, punt-return skills threatening to take every slant route to the house.
"Secondly, the word 'unique' is certainly overused when it comes to athletes. Yet think about this: How many 5-foot-9 receivers have there been in the history of the NFL with Smith's combination of vertical speed, lateral explosion, physical strength, mental toughness and unrelenting competitiveness? You could argue there has not been another wide receiver quite like Smith. 2015 should be the final year of a Hall of Fame career."
Ronde Barber and Ike Taylor, a pair of retired cornerbacks with a combined 372 NFL starts, each identified Smith as the most challenging wide receiver they were ever tasked with covering.
"Megatron Calvin Johnson] was impossible to cover. Randy Moss in his prime -- nothing you can do," Barber explained. "But to me, [Steve Smith was the toughest guy I faced. When I played him, he was just like me. He chose to outwork everyone else out there every day."
Skeptical of expert analysis and anecdotal evidence? Let's consult the numbers.
It's a testament to Smith's greatness that he spent the entirety of his prime battling bracket coverage in a run-first offense without benefit of a franchise quarterback -- and still joined Jerry Rice (Joe Montana, 1990) and Sterling Sharpe (Brett Favre, 1992) as the only modern-era players to win the single-season, wide-receiver Triple Crown (first in receptions, yards and touchdowns).
In a revealing article highlighting Smith's career dominance, Football Perspective's Chase Stuart cites that magical 2005 season as the best in modern history in terms of receiving yards per team pass attempt. Smith's 2008 season is the second best.
In the 16-game era, Smith (2005) and Isaac Bruce (1996) are the only players to lead the NFL in receiving yards while playing on a team that ranked in the bottom-five in pass attempts. Three years later, Smith turned around and led the league in receiving yards per game in an offense that ranked dead-last in pass attempts.
Smith averaged an astonishing 101.3 yards from scrimmage with 38 touchdowns in 48 games with Jake Delhomme at quarterback from 2005 to 2008.
As NFL researcher Adam Harstad of Footballguys.com pointed out, there's a strong statistical argument backing Smith as the most dangerous wideout in postseason history.
While Fitzgerald's 2008 playoff run is widely recognized as the most torrid in history, Smith's 2005 performance isn't far behind.
He kicked off that postseason by catching 10 of 11 (91 percent) targets for 84 yards and a touchdown versus the Giants, adding another score on a 12-yard run. Smith went bonkers the next week, dismantling the Bears secondary -- one of the best of the era -- for 244 yards on 15 touches, hauling in 92.3 percent of his targets.
With starting running back DeShaun Foster injured and no viable second fiddle in the passing attack, the Seahawks triple-teamed Smith in their NFC Championship Game victory. When John Fox allowed his stifled receiver a shot at a punt return, Smith returned his lone opportunity 59 yards for a score.
"He was a transcendent talent," Harstad reasoned, "who was too often let down by those around him."
A model of postseason consistency, Smith has either reached the end zone or topped 100 yards from scrimmage 10 times in 11 career playoff games. The lone exception was a 14-3 win in which the Panthers passed just 14 times versus 40 rushing attempts.
Smith will enter the 2015 season 14th on the career receiving yards list, with a chance to ascend to the top 10 if he reaches 640 yards during his victory lap. He's one of just 10 players in NFL history with 18,000 combined yards.
Let's place that in proper context: Smith lost one season to a broken leg, had two more sabotaged by historically inept quarterback play and spent his prime in an offense that annually ranked among the bottom-five in pass attempts.
As we age, our appreciation for sports often veers away from collecting trophies or worshipping heroes and toward a yearning for transcendent moments and outward joy.
After one particularly gleeful Smith celebration, the game announcer noted with astonishment, "It's like one guy has taken over this 100-yard piece of land out here and he's making his own little personal playground out of it."
To Smith's credit, there's an infectiousness to his antics.
For all of the reasons outlined here, Smith merits recognition in football's pantheon.
Hall of Fame debates often boil down to transcendent peak versus sustained excellence. Smith passes the test with flying colors in both categories.
Six years from now, No. 89's bust should be unveiled in Canton -- complete with an oversized chip on the shoulder.