Steve Smith was ready to leave the Carolina Panthers after last season. Then the team selected Cam Newton with the No 1 overall draft pick. Now, Smith has found his love of the game rejuvenated thanks to the rookie.
Steve Smith has caught on again for the Carolina Panthers
Late last season, Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers wide receiver, dropped by the home of team owner Jerry Richardson with a request: Trade me.
The spirited Smith, a Panther since joining the league in 2001, had lost his fire. Carolina were bumbling to a 2-14 record. Just before the lockout kicked in, Smith cleaned out his stadium locker, which suggested that he had no intention or desire to return.
Then the Panthers executed a move that ultimately changed Smith's mindset. With the No 1 overall draft pick, they tapped quarterback Cam Newton.
After going into remission for two years, Smith, 32, has sipped from the fountain of youth, and he ranks ninth in receptions this season.
A cocky sort, which is a prerequisite for a 5ft 9ins receiver, Smith does not hesitate to credit Newton for his resurgence. The old man not only appreciates the kid's physical prowess but a like-minded impatience for losing.
Many veterans would recoil at a newbie fresh out of college defining his mission as changing a team's defeatist attitude.
Not Smith, who said, "It doesn't bother me at all. I'd rather have a guy who is upset that we lost - obviously, handling it the right way."
"I like a guy who has the desire not to win next year, but he wants to win immediately. I think we need more of that."
Though the Panthers will close out another losing season on Sunday at New Orleans, they belong in the conversation for most improved teams. The reason is Newton, for whom the NFL has been an advanced-placement course, its lessons absorbed more quickly than anyone imagined.
While the New Oreans Saints' Drew Brees will pad the league single-season yards passing record that he seized on Monday, Newton will add to his own record in the rookies-only category. This, on top of rushing for 14 touchdowns, a high-water mark for quarterbacks past and present at any level of experience. He is Michael Vick 2.0, except he can run over tacklers.
Newton's shortcomings are obvious. His high-risk throws have accounted for 16 interceptions. After losses, he tends to wrap a towel around his head and vent his disgust - a tendency that has prompted coach Ron Rivera to call him "Mr Mopeyhead".
Such irritableness does not bother Smith who, a year ago, had his bags packed to leave town.
Soon, because of the new pitch-and-catch partner, he will load up a suitcase for his fifth trip to the Pro Bowl.