The NFL’s Baltimore Ravens may be the most underrated team in the NFL right now. Part of their success is due to senior leadership from quarterback Joe Flacco. Not to be forgotten though are linebacker Terrell Suggs and his new locker neighbor Steve Smith—yup, that Steve Smith.
“How does an undersized, overly confrontational wideout survive 14 years in the NFL? He starts by following a plan that also describes his personal ethos,” writes SI’s Peter King. Well, number nine on that list is: Expect nothing; want one thing writes King:
Ever since he’d watched Jerry Rice, when he was a kid in L.A., Smith never wanted anything but to play football. Later, he came into possession of a football card: carl pickens, 1,000-yard club. He wanted to join.
Back then he went by Stevonne, his given name. Stevonne ran track and played football at University High in L.A., at least when he was eligible. He had some academic issues. “He was always getting in scraps, fighting all the time,” says his offensive coordinator at the time, Gifford Lindheim. “Of all the guys I’ve coached—and I’ve coached thousands—I really didn’t think he’d be the guy with a 14-year NFL career. He was out
And he did. Smith started at Santa Monica College, where he worked at Taco Bell after practice, then transferred to Utah, where he saw snow for the first time (and started going by Steve). During a punt return against BYU in 1999, Smith dipped his right shoulder into one defender while another player collided with his left shoulder. His neck bothered him, but he finished the game. X-rays later showed a broken vertebra in his neck. The 10th trick: play hurt. Availability is as important as ability.
Smith spent six weeks in traction (“He didn’t know if he would play again,” Angie says), returned for his senior season and then was selected in the third round of the 2001 NFL draft. Recalling Smith’s tricky path to professional football and his eventual release by Carolina, Lindheim says, “Here’s a guy with a reputation for losing his temper and being a great player. Yet he stayed in Carolina for 13 years. If he was that bad of a guy, they would have gotten rid of him earlier. That’s the line Steve walks. He’s not a bad guy. But you just know you don’t want to mess with that dude.”
But my favorite part of this excellent profile of Steve Smith by Peter King is how Smith thinks about money. I was pleasantly surprised. Peter King continues (my emphasis added in bold):
Smith is not two people, even if it sometimes appears that way and he’s often described as such. He is one person with myriad interests and a personality that trends toward extremes. That can be confusing—the little guy barking at bigger defenders, on the hunt for his next fight, his next salad, his next spin class. Then people meet him, in the grocery store and at airports, and they deliver backhanded compliments. You’re not what I thought you would be. You’re smarter than I imagined. You’re not that bad of a guy.
“We live in a society where people have preconceived notions, where it’s O.K. to judge,” Smith says. “You think I’m extreme; I think I’m normal. You want to put me in a box; I refuse to be put there.”
Early in his career Smith watched teammates go broke, their bank accounts drained by lavish purchases and poor investments. He made a few himself. Then he hired a financial guy; he interned at Morgan Stanley in consecutive off-seasons; he attended a financial seminar in London. Smith wanted to buy a Bentley, and eventually he did, but not until he accrued enough interest on his salary to buy the car outright—passive income, he notes, schooling a reporter on financial terms. That took 8 and a half years.