5 greatest moments in Carolina Panthers history ahead of 2021 season

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme /
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Carolina Panthers
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) Steve Smith /

Steve Smith’s Carolina Panthers X Clown game-winner

When you ask who the Carolina Panthers’ GOAT is, typically three or four names will come up: Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, Julius Peppers, and Steve Smith.

All four certainly have a claim to be the greatest Panther ever, but the last name owns what is likely the most clutch play in franchise history.

A huge reason for Carolina’s shocking success in 2003 was the emergence of a young Smith. When he was first drafted in 2001 he was used primarily as a return man.

He had just 10 catches as a rookie, totaling only 154 yards.

Smith made a much greater impact during his second year, hauling in more than 50 catches for 872 yards and his first three touchdowns.

In 2003 though he really broke out, racking up 88 catches for more than 1,100 yards and seven scores. He became Jake Delhomme’s go-to receiver and established himself as one of the league’s best trash-talkers and competitors.

Perhaps it was also during that season that Smith truly made a name for himself, and what he would go on to do in the postseason remains one of the franchise’s most iconic moments all these years later.

Commonly referred to as “X Clown,” Smith’s game-winning score against the St. Louis Rams propelled the Panthers into the NFC Championship game, and completing a shocking upset on the road against Marshall Faulk and a loaded offense, while also ending the Rams’ 14-game home winning streak.

Locked up 23-all at the start of double overtime, Smith got open on a skinny post, Delhomme delivered a perfect ball, and his speed did the rest, carrying him 69 yards to end zone and eventually paving the way for a trip to the Super Bowl.

If Carolina’s young receiver wasn’t yet a superstar at the position, X Clown surely helped make his case.

This particular play is not only crucial to Panthers history because of the resulting outcome, but also marked the beginning of the legend of Smith as fans know it today.

He obviously always had the talent to be a standout receiver, but it was perhaps his game-winner in St. Louis that made Smith a household name.

Nearly 18 years later, Smith is one, if not, the greatest players in team history, and in less than a year will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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So to all the Smith haters out there, I have but five words for you: “Ice up, son! Ice up!”