Steve Smith shakes off one youngster during a two-hand touch football game Friday as Cam Newton looks on from behind. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – Carolina Panthers star receiver Steve Smith said he recently contemplated retiring from the NFL after his wife Angie became ill earlier this offseason.
The Smiths feared she might have a disease called Lupus, although thorough medical examinations revealed last Friday she didn’t. She has Mononucleosis and currently resting and doing better and Smith has refocused himself on the football season ahead.
“Retiring at that time was one of the things I was thinking about because I had to be home with my wife,” Smith said Friday at his youth football camp at Ardrey Kell High School. “I need to make sure I didn’t let her down. And now that that process has passed, we're thankful for that and now we're going to sit down and talk about things that are less important than her health."
Smith said he definitely plans to play football again this season, although he remained ambiguous on where that might be.
According to sources close to the team, Smith has talked to high-ranking officials about a possible trade, although he’s not come out and said it. Of course, that trade would be contingent upon the Panthers being willing to deal him and what they might get in return for the four-time Pro Bowl selection.
When asked if he’d be content playing in Carolina if he’s not dealt, Smith went with a familiar refrain. “It's between me and my family," he said. "When we decide what we're going to do, whether other people like it or not, as long as my family is happy... I would hope everyone else will understand it's a family affair and that's how it's going to be."
Smith said he plans to discuss his future with his family during an upcoming vacation this month.
Smith’s goal is, and always has been, to win a Super Bowl.
"I want to be competitive and have fun," Smith said. "Winning isn't everything but losing isn't much fun.”
Smith’s numbers have fallen off the last two years largely because of inconsistent quarterback play from Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen. It didn’t help that he injured his ankle early last year, something that privately plagued him most of the season.
Clearly Smith is motivated to return to a Pro Bowl level this season and prove to his doubters – whether real or imagined – that they’re wrong.
“I feel like I didn't play well statistically, so a lot of people are saying I'm a middle-age receiver whose skills are diminishing and that he’s losing a step,” Smith said. “We'll see. We'll see how many 24-year-olds can cover a 32-year-old receiver who runs a 4.3 who wasn't supposed to be (in the league) anyway."
The Panthers are hoping the addition of Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick will help solve the team’s quarterback problems and also convince Smith to stick around a couple of more years. Smith is under contract with the Panthers through 2012.
Newton was on hand at Smith’s football camp the last two days to help out and during a Q and A with young campers openly lobbied for Smith to return to the Panthers. When a youngster asked Newton what NFL team he wanted to play for, he said the Panthers because they had the No. 1 overall pick, and then added, "And I wanted to have someone great to throw it to and I knew Steve Smith was here, right?”
The kids erupted in cheers.
When told by a reporter later on it looked like he was campaigning for Smith to stay in Carolina, Newton laughed and said, "That's how y’all got it? Then I'm going to just leave it at that. Hopefully he got the message and the memo too."
For now, Smith is just happy he can again focus on football with his wife improving.
"That's a big relief,” Smith said. “It's something we have been dealing with the last month-and-a-half. So when I said that football was on the back burner, to me it was one of the scariest things I've ever had to deal with as a husband and a father. Our life was in a holding pattern more than just football. It was in a holding pattern for her health. “
Both Smith and Newton seemed to enjoy their time at the sold out two-day football camp which drew more than 260 kids, playing “ultimate football” with youngsters, all the while acting like little kids themselves.
“That’s what I am,” Newton said. “It’s my way of giving back and supporting the kids today and I try to make it as clear as I can make it. Anytime I can come out and be free, so to speak, and play around and just have fun and have the kids put a smile on my face is big for me.”
During one break in the action, one of the campers asked Newton if he’s going to be better than Delhomme. Newton tried to sidestep the question, but Smith grabbed the microphone and gave it to Newton, saying, “You didn’t answer the boy’s question.”
Newton laughed and finally said, "Time will tell."
Smith said he believes Newton has the talent to get things done in Carolina.
"He's a phenomenal player," Smith said of Newton. "You had to be living in a cave if you didn't see him play college football last year. His athleticism speaks for itself. You can see an athlete walk in the door. He doesn't have to wear a sign or a jersey. You can tell if a guy can play or if he can't."