Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. stopped several times to compose himself. His voice cracked when talking about his family's support. He got emotional when discussing packing up his house in Baltimore. Asked about what he'll miss most about playing in the NFL, he brought up the relationships he's had with teammates and a text message he received earlier in the day from former Raven Justin Forsett.
Fighting back tears, Smith politely excused himself from the news conference.
"Trying to get to Sunday without crying like a little kid," Smith said.
The Ravens' matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium carries no playoff implications, but it will likely mark the final game of Smith's 16-year career. The feisty and festive wide receiver acknowledged as much while wearing a partial Darth Vader costume following practice Wednesday at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"I'm about 89 percent sure," said Smith, invoking his uniform number. "I'm pretty sure I know what I want to do. I've got great support from my family. My wife supports me whichever way I want to go, my boys want me to still play, but there's a little girl named Baylee Smith who wants her daddy home. Football is a conduit. It's a platform, good and bad, but it gives you an opportunity. Football has given me more than I probably can give football back. But for 2016-17 and beyond, it's probably my last game."
Smith's admission was hardly surprising. He had said last year that the 2015 season would be his last, but he changed his mind when he tore the Achilles' tendon in his right leg last November. Smith didn't want the last image of himself on the football field to be him getting helped to the locker room with a towel covering his face.
However, he has been telling teammates and confidants throughout this season that he was planning to retire at the end of the year.
"I'm going to miss it. I'm going to mourn. Sunday has been part of my life for 16, 20 years. I played through college, high school," Smith said. "I'd be a fool to say I'm not going to miss it. But there's parts of my body that's going to not miss it. But there's nothing I can do about that. Very rarely do you see 60-year-old men playing football. It's not going to happen and it's not going to start."
Smith, 37, ranks seventh all time in receiving yards (14,697), 12th in receptions (1,028) and seventh in all-purpose yards (19,146). He and Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown are the only players in NFL history to eclipse 13,000 receiving yards and 4,000 return yards.
Currently the oldest receiver in the NFL, Smith ranks third on the Ravens with 67 receptions, second with 765 receiving yards and he leads the team with five touchdown catches despite missing two games with an ankle injury.
He acknowledged he's lost a step, "but I'm 37 years old and teams are still game-planning me. It doesn't matter about losing a step or not. It's about playing. People can say what they want to say. They can say I'm not as good as I used to be, blah blah blah. But at the end of the day, there's teams hoping to draft a guy like me. I've made my mistakes, I've done things that I'm not proud of, but at the end of the day, our uniqueness and our pitfalls, our negative things, our positive things, that's what makes us. I never shied away."
Smith signed with the Ravens in March 2014 after his 13-year stay with the Carolina Panthers, in which he etched his name throughout the team's record brooks, reached an unceremonious end with his release. In parts of three seasons in Baltimore, he has caught 192 passes for 2,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in 36 games.
His current head coach and teammates spoke almost reverentially of the impact he's made on the organization in a relatively short period of time.
"As far as what it's been like to coach Steve Smith, I would say that it's been nothing but an honor, a privilege and a joy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Every single day, I look forward to it. He's the kind of guy when I see him come in, I get excited because I'm like, 'Ok, what's going to happen next? What's he going to say? What's he going to do? I know he's going to give us his best. I know he's going to compete. I know he's going to raise the level of everybody around him. That's what the great ones do. I think the great ones make everybody around them better, and Steve does it in his way. It's a couple of years I really cherish in my career, having a chance to coach him."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco remembered the first pass he threw to Smith after his arrival. He threw a short throw right to the middle of Smith's chest, but the wide receiver had already turned up field, forcing him to contort his body and make a no-look snag.
"I'm like, 'Oh man. This is going to be crazy. He's doing all kinds of crazy things out there. Who knows where I'm going to have to throw the ball to this guy?,'" Flacco said. "Steve's unbelievable. I have nothing but great things to say about him and my time spent with him. I feel very fortunate to be with him. His competitive nature and the way he plays this game and the talent that he has, he's definitely unique and a rare breed. Any time you get a chance to play with a guy that's really a legend in this game, count yourself lucky."
Smith's three-year contract with the Ravens expires following the season. For months, his teammates have tried to talk him into extending his stay. With touchdowns in each of his past two games, he's still playing at a high level.
Smith, though, has long said that he has a life that he wants to move onto and he didn't want to hang on for too long. His numbers are surely good enough to warrant him Hall of Fame consideration.
"I've been playing with house money," he said. "People say, 'Come back, get some statistics.' I've got the best statistic ever: I played 16 years. People are going to say what they want, fans are going to say what they want — good and bad. Good riddance and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, I'm good. I played 16 years, I'm 37 years old, 5-9, chip, no chip. At the end of the day, man, it's been a crazy, unbelievable opportunity that I never would have thought I would have."