Steve Smith celebrates a touchdown two weeks ago against the Saints. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – If Steve Smith and DeAngelo Hall are going to exchange trash talk it’s going to come on the field this year.
Maybe they’ve matured or have a deeper mutual respect, but both superstars kept things civil this time around in preparation for Sunday’s matchups between the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins.
It hasn’t always been that way, of course.
For awhile Smith and Hall had one of the most heated rivalries in the NFC South when Hall was a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Things came to a boil when the teams met at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 23, 2007, as Smith egged Hall into three penalties worth 37 yards as Hall completely lost control, allowing the Panthers to come back from a 7-point deficit to win 27-20. Hall was benched the following week.
Hall now plays for the Washington Redskins and intense rivalry seems to have slowed from a boil to a mere simmer.
Hall called Smith “pound for pound best wide receiver in the game,” but admitted it’s going to be a war on Sunday.
“I don’t think it was ever a level of dislike between us,” Hall said. “We’re two fierce competitors and we’re a lot alike that way.
“We want to get the best out of each other and try to beat the other one down. That’s probably not going to change. It’s going to be the same kind of scenario come Sunday. He’s going to come out and try to impose his will on me and I’m going to do likewise.”
Smith brushed off his fiery past with Hall, saying he approaches facing him the same way he would any other cornerback in the league.
“He’s a good opponent and he can play,” Smith said. “So you have to be ready to play.”
Smith said there’s no added personal incentive to beat Hall, adding that he could make this a one-on-one battle but that “I don’t have the time. I have a lot of other things going on like watching film.”
Perhaps knowing Smith plays his best when provoked, Hall offered big praise for adversary this week saying he’s back at the top of his game.
Smith leads the NFL in receiving yards coming into the seventh week of the season, averaging more than 112 yards per game.
“He’s playing great football,” Hall said. “He’s playing back to the level that when we used to battle that he was playing at. He’s going to be over there in Hawaii (to the Pro Bowl) at the end of the year. He’s making plays and he’s tenacious.
“He’s had some quarterback problems over the years, but he’s back. Cam (Newton) is looking for him and those guys are hooking up and making a lot of plays.”
Early in their careers Smith and Hall once dined together and considered themselves friends.
But that friendship quickly ended when Hall took some shots at Smith through the media.
“You best believe, when he’s hanging in the air, I will be taking a shot at him,” Hall said prior to a game in 2005. “Period. I’m trying to kill people this year. Period.”
Hall also described a touchdown Smith had caught on him earlier that year as a “fluke play.”
Smith responded by calling Hall a “court jester.”
“I guess when you are on the top you have a lot of people try to knock you down,” Smith said at the time. “Some people are lower than others on the totem pole by age, performance and talk. So when you’re the court jester and you’re talking to the king, you have to do stuff like that. But other than that, I’m not going to play games with little kids. There’s no reason to. When you talk you obviously are insecure about something and if you talk long enough, you will hang yourself.”
They last met in 2009 and Smith had five catches for 65 yards as the Panthers defeated the Redskins 20-17.