Steve Smith made playoff magic exactly one decade ago Friday. He caught six passes for 163 yards in a playoff upset of the Rams, including a 69-yard touchdown pass in double overtime -- the greatest play in the greatest game in Panthers history, and one of the greatest playoff games in NFL history.
Yes, that was the same Steve Smith, not his father or some other receiver with the same name. He was the star of a playoff game that featured Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace, Stephen Davis and Jake Delhomme, Aeneas Williams and Dan Morgan and … believe it … JASON SEHORN. He has been in Carolina the whole time. He has changed, as Pearl Jam would say, by not changing much at all.
Smith is also the chronicler of Panthers history. He was there for double overtime, for Jake Delhomme's Arizona meltdown and Janet Jackson's nipple. He was there for 2-14, catching passes from Jimmy Clausen and Brian St. Pierre. He broke an arm scoring a touchdown that did nothing but edge the Panthers closer to .500. He welcomed Newton and challenged Newton, and the current Panthers have absorbed Smith's personality in a way that recent Ravens teams became extensions of Ray Lewis. The Panthers are dangerous, daring and scrappy, and they are not quite as new to the playoff picture as they appear.
Prediction: Panthers 23, 49ers 17
I love Tanier, and he was big on this team before the season. Hope his faith, and ours, gets rewarded on Sunday.