Admittedly, I was never able to fully appreciate the Steve Smith Sr. era in Baltimore.
It's not because I didn't recognize the former Panthers receiver was still, I believe the term is, "a baller." It's not because I can't acknowledge the combination of skill and fortitude he brought to the table every week. It's just that Smith's presence, to me, always seemed to reflect as much of his own quality as it did the Ravens' continued lack of young, difference-making receivers on the roster.
Every time he caught the ball, there was a part of me that felt, "That's nice and all, but wouldn't it be great if he was 27 instead of 37 and he'll be catching passes for as long as Joe Flacco is the quarterback here?" It was a conundrum dissimilar to the majority of high-level players who have played in Baltimore.
That said, my frustrations regarding Smith never distracted from his greatness. He was still talented with the Ravens after an incredible 13 seasons with the Panthers.
So here's where we get to the crux of the ink PressBox has allotted me this month. The phrases "future Hall of Famer" and "likely future Hall of Famer" have been used at times to describe Smith as his career came to a close this past season. But Canton, Ohio, is no certainty for the 16-year veteran. Smith's totals are impressive: 1,031 career catches (12th in NFL history) for 14,731 yards (seventh) and 81 touchdowns (tied for 26th). He also added two rushing touchdowns, six return scores and 11 combined visits to pay-dirt during the postseason.
Those numbers are significant, and combined with Smith's reputation for toughness and an overwhelmingly positive public persona, I like his chances. But keep in mind, former 49ers/Cowboys/Eagles/Bills/Bengals receiver Terrell Owens finished with nearly twice as many touchdown catches (153, third all-time), yet he's waiting to find out if he'll get in on his second try as a finalist this year. Former Raiders star receiver Tim Brown is one of only 10 players to haul in 100 touchdown catches, yet he had to wait six years to get in.
Smith may have to sweat out a few years' worth of voting before he gets the call, but he should eventually receive enshrinement. And I'm good with all of that. You know, just as long as the other guy doesn't have to wait any longer than Smith does.
You know the guy. The guy is fellow former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Inexplicably, while Smith is spoken of in more certain terms regarding the Hall, Boldin is largely viewed as more of a "bubble" candidate.
For fun, I posted a poll on Twitter in early January asking which player was more deserving of the Hall of Fame and overwhelmingly (roughly 75 percent) votes were cast for Smith from an audience largely made up of Ravens fans.
But consider the numbers at the end of the 2016 regular season. Boldin has 1,076 catches (ninth all-time) for 13,779 yards (14th) and 82 touchdowns (tied 23rd). He added a rushing touchdown and has hauled in eight postseason scores. He's done this while playing two fewer seasons (with the potential to keep playing moving forward), and taking into consideration the injuries both players have suffered, Boldin has played 17 fewer regular-season games.
The receiving numbers are almost identical. Smith has a level of separation statistically, thanks to his return numbers, but the two careers even out when you take into consideration the one other thing Boldin has. You know, a ring. While Smith reached one Super Bowl, Boldin reached two. And during the Ravens' run to Super Bowl XLVII, the receiver was spectacular. His 22 catches, 380 yards and four touchdowns throughout four playoff games were punctuated by his fourth-quarter, third-and-inches back shoulder reception in New Orleans -- one of the more underappreciated Super Bowl plays of all time.
In fairness to Smith, he could not singlehandedly carry a team to a Super Bowl title. But he tried, with 404 yards and three touchdowns during Carolina's run to Super Bowl XXXVIII. But Boldin held a Lombardi Trophy, and Smith didn't. There's no getting around that.
Two players, both defined by toughness and a "warrior's mentality" whose career numbers and accomplishments are remarkably similar. Smith appears to ultimately be Hall of Fame-bound, and that's exactly how it should be.