NFL free agency is in full turmoil. In its first 24 hours, over $1 billion in contracts were handed out, with plenty more to come in the couple of days after that. The strange and often entertaining aspect of NFL free agency, as opposed to other leagues, is teams drop players while signing others, keeping the market engaging even after the initial top names are gone. The salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts are often confusing and frustrating for fans, but they sure add excitement to this time of year.
One big money veteran who felt victim to the salary cap is wide receiver Steve Smith. The cap room-starved Carolina Panthers asked the long time face of their franchise and one of the most exciting players in the league to renegotiate his contract. He didn’t appreciate the request and instead asked to be released. He just signed a new deal with Baltimore.
I don’t really care about Steve Smith, but seeing his name brought back one of my favorite Seahawk memories, from their 2005 Super Bowl run. That team was quite good, but for whatever reason, I never felt completely confident in them. I remember them being a really good all-around team, without being dominant anywhere except for the Walter Jones-Steve Hutchinson duo. I could be remembering wrong. I’m sure a large part of the concern was just wondering if it were even possible for a Seattle team to make a championship game. Whatever the case, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the conference championship game.
The opponent in that game? Steve Smith and his Carolina Panthers. Smith was in his prime and one of the best offensive players in the league. He brought tremendous danger with each touch of the football. In the regular season, he’d gone for over 100 catches and more than 1,500 receiving yards and was coming off a huge game. All I remember hearing in the week before the game was about the bubble screens to Steve Smith, and how he was nearly impossible to tackle once he had the ball and a block in front of him.
I don’t really remember the specifics of the game. I couldn’t come close to giving a play-by-play, but I remember one play that summed up the game. It was early in the game, probably the Panthers’ first offensive series, I’m guessing. Jake Delhomme dropped back to pass, and it was clear immediately he was throwing the vaunted screen to Steve Smith on the left sideline. I held my breath. Smith was a truly dangerous guy with the football. The term gets overused, but some players are capable of scoring every time they touched the ball. Smith was exactly that.
Delhomme’s quick pass went left, nearly parallel to the line of scrimmage. Smith was waiting, but he never had a chance. Any attempted blocks failed utterly, and a full speed Seahawk defender reached Smith just as the ball did. Smith got blown up and the ball bounced to the ground. In that instant, I knew the Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl. The Panthers didn’t have a lot on offense besides Smith, and in that one play, the Seahawks showed they had the game plan, athleticism and execution to stop him. It was much like Kam Chancellor’s early leveling of Julius Thomas in the Super Bowl. The tone was set, and the rout was on.
Smith would eventually score the Panthers’ only points of the game on a punt return for a touchdown. The Seahawks won 34-7, in a game I don’t remember even being that close. The Super Bowl didn’t go well, of course, but the run to get there was great. It’s funny the way one play sticks in the mind. Steve Smith has been one of the best receivers in the NFL throughout his career, but I’ll always remember him on his back beneath a Seahawk, the ball lying a few feet away, sending us to the Super Bowl.