Steve Smith caught seven passes for 106 yards and was the main highlight of a mostly stymied Carolina Panthers offense Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When the clock reached 0:00, Smith untied his cleats, placed them on the field, removed his socks and walked off.
It wasn’t because of the loss, but rather to bring attention to Samaritan’s Feet, a charity with the goal to put shoes on the feet of the needy.
But what might be even more attention grabbing is that Smith, with the help of some volunteers, washed feet and put new shoes and socks on 400 homeless people at the Pinellas Safe Harbor shelter Saturday afternoon.
Smith is doing this in every NFL city where the Panthers play this season. The foot washing and shoe giveaway in Clearwater is the first.
Hundreds of pairs of shoes valued at $100 were stacked on tables. Others were still in cardboard boxes marked “7 and 8 for women” and “13s for men” ready to be fit onto freshly washed feet.
Todd Melloh, with Samaritan’s Feet, gave a pep talk to about 30 orange-shirted volunteers as the 400 homeless men, women and younger adults lined up.
“He’s one of us. He’s here to serve,” Melloh said before Smith’s arrival. “It’s not about the shoes. It’s about hope.”
Instead of receiver’s gloves, Smith donned blue, surgical-style rubber ones. He pulled up a chair and a tub of water. Smith sat wearing his own orange shirt and awaited his first pair of feet.
“Sit down, you relax,” Smith said to Merlyn Ann Miller, who had no idea the man who she said could really lead a prayer was a star wide receiver in the NFL.
Miller said she used to live in St. Petersburg but lost her house and is at Safe Harbor trying to get back on her feet.
They laughed and talked as Smith spent about five minutes washing and rubbing her feet before drying them and putting a bright white pair of socks on for her.
He then started lacing up a black and teal pair of athletic shoes.
“It’s been a pleasure serving you,” Smith said as he placed her feet gently back on the asphalt.
Smith’s daughter came over and the three held hands and said a prayer for Miller’s sick relative.
“This was not the day I expected,” Miller said.
In a league that typically lasts four years for a player, Smith has spent 12 years as a pro. For him, this is a way to transition to what he wants to do in his post-NFL career. While some players go into broadcasting, he said, he plans to spend time traveling the globe serving others.
Already he has gone to to Peru and some other U.S. cities helping but never anything like this project.
He also liked this opportunity to get his family involved helping others too.
And as far as washing feet?
Smith called it intimate and impactful.
“When you take off your shoes, your socks, it reveals everything about you,” said Smith who is suffering from a foot condition. “It’s such a private and personal gesture ... for some people that’s the first time their feet have been touched by someone else.”