Column: Former Taft High, USC star Steve Smith on Super Bowl heroics

Steve Smith heads toward the end zone for a touchdown.
Steve Smith played four seasons with the New York Giants, winning a Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2008.
(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

On Sunday, from the comfort of his living room in the San Fernando Valley, Steve Smith, the father of boys ages 10, 7 and 2 weeks old, will watch the Rams take on the Bengals from SoFi Stadium and probably have one or two Super Bowl flashbacks from his days catching passes from Eli Manning for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix.

“It’s a great feeling to play in the Super Bowl,” said Smith, who starred at Woodland Hills Taft High and USC before becoming a second-round NFL draft pick in 2007. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I just remember guys telling me that they’d be playing for 15-plus years and never made it. I was just a young guy, but the buildup was awesome. The players were tremendous. The hoopla you have to really stay focused. It’s a great culmination to the season, and you get to hoist the trophy at the end.”

The Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17-14 on Feb. 3, 2008, at the University of Phoenix Stadium with Smith contributing five receptions, including four on third-down situations.


“In New York, they call me third-and-Smith when I walk around,” he said.

Incredibly, seven years later, Smith was at MetLife Stadium watching his brother, Malcolm, another former Taft and USC player, earn Super Bowl MVP honors when the Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43-8 on Feb. 2, 2014.

“I was just over at his house and talking about big games and what others are going through,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I was there. I was going crazy in the stands. I remember the opposing fans were looking at me, ‘Who is this guy?’ It was an awesome moment of the family.”

Smith had to retire when he was 27 because of a bad knee, which has caused him to appreciate even more the longevity of quarterback Tom Brady, who announced last week he was ending his football career at 44.

“It’s remarkable, man. What a player. To fight through all those guys, injuries, practices, shouldering the offense as a quarterback … you have to tip your cap to Tom Brady,” he said. “Me being a New York Giant, I’m not rah-rah Tom Brady. But the respect for him, it’s like Kobe Bryant. You look at him, ‘Wow, he inspired you to do better.’ ”

Smith said the mental grind more than the physical obstacles can be barriers for NFL players. He remembers his final season trying to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Former Taft, USC and New York Giants receiver Steve Smith.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

“The mental toll is probably what got me out of the game,” he said. “They wanted me to play a last year at Tampa Bay. I remember them saying, ‘We’re going to revive your career, Steve.’ Mentally I was dealing with knee injuries.”

Smith said when he called it quits, the challenge was dealing with free time and finding a focus other than solely sports.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “My first few years, I say that part of me died. I resurrected as a businessman, finding the other things that I’m not just a football player. It’s tough when you’re in the sports world. It’s so many hours put in. You have to remember who you are, remember how you were raised, remember all the great things about you.”

Having experienced what many teenage athletes aspire to do — reach the college and pro ranks as well as win a championship — Smith was asked what lessons he could pass on.

“Just enjoy the moment,” he said. “Work hard because there’s other people working when you’re sleeping. If you really want it, you have to dive in. You should be looking to build yourself into an all-around person with education, being respectful. It’s going to all help you at the end of the day because you never know when it can be taken away from you. You learn so many great things from sports and watching other players and reading all these great stories. I’m so happy and proud to be part of this sports family.”

Smith is preparing his boys for sports participation. The 10-year-old is a promising baseball player. The 7-year-old shoots hoops on the family outside court. They could be playing flag football soon.

Dadis ready to answer their Super Bowl questions on Sunday.

“Kids today, with the internet, they know more stuff than me,” he said. “My 10-year-old points out about [Matthew] Stafford getting hit, defensive backs, asking about receivers, what kind of route, what penalty was that. Both of my kids, we play in the backyard all the time.”

If Uncle Malcolm drops by, that’s two pretty good Super Bowl heroes to talk about memories.