CHARLOTTE – Steve Smith thought he would only play for one NFL team.
But that's not the case.
On Thursday, Smith was released by the Carolina Panthers – the team that drafted him in the third round from Utah 13 years ago.
The Panthers all-time leading receiver will find a new team, and he will continue to play.
But Smith's deep connection to the Panthers will never fade.
"In the end, I will always be a Carolina Panther," Smith said. "They gave a knucklehead from L.A. an opportunity to live a dream. I can never turn my back on that.
"I love Mr. Richardson, what he's done for my family, what he's done for me as a man. He's given me the opportunity to find a home in Charlotte that we can call a safe environment and I am forever grateful for that opportunity. I'm grateful for (former general manager) Marty Hurney and (former head coach) George Seifert and all the other people that drafted me in 2001."
Smith is also grateful for the outpouring of support he's received from Panthers fans everywhere.
"The overwhelming support through this from Panther nation has been outstanding," Smith said. "I've gotten the opportunity to see how much respect and love I have from the Panthers fans and fans of me personally. Just because I am no longer contractually a Carolina Panther – that's just some formality with paperwork.
"The city of Charlotte as a community has supported me. My foundation is based here in Charlotte. My house is here in Charlotte. I plan on growing old in Charlotte. Fans and haters have had the opportunity to watch me grow up in the limelight. At times I've handled it badly and at times I've handled it OK. I have no regrets."
No regrets, but so many memories.
"What sticks out to me the most is driving down South Tryon on our way to the Super Bowl," Smith said. "Seeing the city and remembering that – that will always be the image that is permanently burnt in my mind. I was a part of something great."
After 13 seasons, Smith leaves as the greatest player in team history. The knucklehead from Los Angeles became the fiercely competitive face of a young franchise in Charlotte.
"Every boy wants to grow up and be something special," Smith said. "I can honestly say that I wasn't anything special. I had the opportunity to be around some special people and a special organization."