The Softer Side of Steve Smith

When most people think of Steve Smith, they think of his temper. But ‘Agent 89’ is more than just an oftentimes angry football player.

When most people think of Steve Smith, they think of his temper. During his 13 seasons with the Panthers, Smith's much-publicized fiery side got him in trouble plenty of times. But ‘Agent 89’ is more than just an oftentimes angry football player. 

Here are a handful of short stories from some who know the softer side of Steve Smith: 

Marty Hurney, Former Panthers General Manager

“The first time Steve ever came to my office, we had drafted him in the third round (of the 2001 NFL Draft). Signing bonuses weren’t anything like they are now. But we were negotiating the signing bonus, and we had not come to an agreement. 

Steve came up and said, ‘Can I talk to you?’ He sat down in front of my desk and said, ‘I’m going to play here for a long, long time, and I’m going to make a lot of plays for this organization. But this signing bonus that’s on the table ain’t going to cut it.’ 

I said, ‘Does your agent know you’re in here because I don’t want to talk around him.’ He said, ‘yeah,’ so we had a good conversation, and he got up and left. 

We got the contract done very shortly after that, but as soon as he left the office, I said, ‘You know what? I really like that guy.’ It takes a lot of guts to do that. There was never a rookie before that and after that to ever walk in and say, ‘I want to have an honest discussion. This signing bonus isn’t going to work.’ 

He was just so genuine. He made sense. He was upfront. It set the tone for our relationship from then on. If there was something on his mind, he would always be genuine, forthright, direct, honest … brutally honest at times. But it was always thought out. 

What he said always had reasons for it. I might not have agreed with everything, and he might not have agreed with everything I said. But we had a very good relationship. And it was one of, I hope, mutual respect. I certainly respect him as much as you can respect a player. 

We went through good times, and we went through hard times, but you always knew what was on Steve’s mind. At the foundation of everything, you learn very quickly Steve’s got a huge heart, and he wants to do the right thing. He grew up in Charlotte, as a football player, and as a man."

Taylor Zarzour, Former WFNZ Radio Host

“He texted me one day, when he was thinking of getting into broadcasting, wondering how much more he was going to play, and thinking of us possibly doing a show together. He said, ‘I want to find out what Tobacco Road basketball is all about.’ 

So I set us up to go to a North Carolina game and a Duke game in the same day. On the way there and back, he had so many more questions about my family, and how I grew up, and why I’m in broadcasting. He asked more about my children, and about my wife, than I did about him. 

After we got back, he texted me and said, ‘I’m sure you had to pull a few strings to get these tickets. Please email me every single person that had something to do with us going to these games today because I’d like to send them something.’ And he did. He sent every single one of them something. 

That’s the Steve Smith I know. That’s why I would support him no matter what he would do. 

From afar, like everybody else, I knew him just as a football player for a long time. But I got to know the person off the football field, and he’s as good a friend as I have off the field."

Mike Rucker, Former Panthers Defensive End

“When he had a soft opening for his foundation, he had a bowling tournament. Just seeing him interact with the kids, and everyone else, showed signs that he has gotten better. I think that’s what we all strive to do, is to be better. 

I think he has changed in some areas in his life, versus when he first got into the league. To me, that was one of the moments that showed the light bulb was on. His whole family is there, and you see his kids interacting with the other kids, and the positive spirit that was going on that day. Obviously, you can find some memories that were on the flip side, so this really stood out to me. 

He’s not one — and the people who truly know him know this — he doesn’t go out and say, ‘All right everybody, look at what I’m about to do.’ He does a ton of stuff, whether it’s financial or with his time, where he gives back to the community, and you wouldn’t even know it. 

I think long term, when all the football stuff’s settled, you’re going to see a lot of these stories pop up as he’s coming back into the community. I think long term, what he puts back into it is going to be good for Charlotte.”

Darin Gantt, Former Panthers Beat Reporter for The Rock Hill Herald

“You'd never imagine it about Steve if you only ever saw him on TV, but manners mean a lot to him.

When he signed his first contract extension from the Panthers, he invited owner Jerry Richardson and his wife Rosalind to his home for dinner to thank them. But before the arrived, he had kids learn formal table manners, something that might have been common for the Richardsons, but not where Smith grew up. He wanted to make sure to do the right thing for his guests.

Another time, I was talking to him after a football camp, and a kid came up with a football, asking for an autograph. Steve stopped in mid-answer to say: 'When grown folks are talking, we say 'Excuse me.'' Then he proceeded to give a longer answer than was necessary, just to prove a point. But the kid stuck around, as kids do around Steve, and when he was finished, and the kid said 'Excuse me, Mr. Smith, can I please have your autograph,' he did. And he talked to the kid. And reminded him how important manners were. And asked about his football team too. And gave him something more than a hurried signature.

It took longer than the kid wanted, but he eventually realized there was more to Smith than meets the eye."

Bill Rosinski, Former Panthers Play-By-Play Broadcaster

"He was very giving. My wife's involved in a philanthropic organization called the Assistance League. They would have galas every year, and he and (his wife) Angie would come to these, and all we had to do was ask. 

The two of them showed up. He signed autographs, chatted with folks, and I'm sure there were some things he donated for silent auctions. All people usually see of him is spit's coming out of his mouth whenever he makes a catch, but he can be pretty engaging in a social setting like that."

Deedee Mills, Former Panthers Public Relations Assistant

“I was always on the field before games, so I always knew the gist of who community relations was bringing on the field. At a certain point in pre-game, he would look for me, and I would either nod ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If I said ‘yes,’ he knew that meant there was someone he would want to see. It would be a kid in a wheelchair, or a veteran, whatever the case may be.

He especially cares about kids, so he would come over in the middle of pre-game. It didn’t matter what game it was — big game, small game, playoff game — it didn’t matter. He would come over, and it wasn’t, ‘I’m over here because somebody told me to,’ or because ‘I have a sponsorship with so and so.’ It wasn’t for any other reason except he wanted to touch these kids, and say some things to these kids, and take pictures with these kids. In his core, that’s Steve.”

Categories: Black and Blue Review 2, Panthers