I was on hand at Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers' thrilling 17-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
There was a collective gasp when Steve Smith went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. Nobody knew exactly what the extent of the injury was, but it didn't look good for the veteran wideout.
Fortunately for the Panthers faithful, an MRI on Monday revealed a PCL sprain, which, in the realm of possible knee injuries, is extremely good news.
Smith will almost certainly miss Carolina's regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons, but has a great chance to play in the playoffs — especially if the team earns a first-round bye.
It's almost impossible to imagine the Panthers embarking on their first postseason journey in five years without No. 89 in the huddle. Smith is one of the few players on the roster who was there for the team's last playoff appearance, let alone the 2003 Super Bowl run.
The fiery veteran is more than just a key cog in the passing attack; he's an important emotional leader in the locker room and on the field, the heart and soul of everything Carolina Panthers football.
Smith has been a part of it all— some great teams, but mostly not-so-great teams — in his 13 seasons with the Panthers. But he's always remained loyal to the city, the fans and the organization.
To become a bystander during this promising playoff run would be a cruel fate for the 34-year-old, who's put in so much blood, sweat and tears to restore the Panthers franchise to prominence.
The team needs his guidance, wisdom and leadership.
And he needs the team.
If there's anyone that can fight through a little adversity, it's Steve Smith. After all, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound firecracker has been defying odds his entire career.
But if you're a Panthers fan, saying a little prayer to the football gods can't hurt.
Here's to a speedy recovery, No. 89.
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