I see Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith opened more than his big mouth this time. He unloaded his fists on a teammate, breaking cornerback Ken Lucas’ nose Friday at the Panthers’ training camp.

Thank you, Carolina head coach John Fox for the courage to suspend your best player for the season’s first two games. Smith will miss Carolina’s games against the Chargers Sept. 7 at Qualcomm Stadium and Sept. 14 against the Chicago Bears in the Panthers’ home opener.

But Fox — especially as a former SDSU safety — should go a couple of steps further.

Instead of leaving Smith behind in Charlotte, Fox should make him travel to San Diego for the Chargers game. He should buy former SDSU cornerback Donte Gamble a ticket close to the Panthers’ bench. Fox should make Smith sit within earshot of Gamble so Gamble can mock him for the stupidity that will cost Smith an estimated $205,882 out of his $1.75 contract.

A brief history lesson: Smith played at Utah, and in the 2000 season at Qualcomm, he beat Gamble with touchdown catches of 74 and 69 yards in the Utes’ 21-7 win over SDSU.

It was a meaningless game that dropped the Aztecs to 1-5 en route to a 3-8 record. But Smith, stopping for a question I asked him at midfield, acted as if he’d avenged taunts from Deion Sanders in the Super Bowl.

“I punked Gamble, right there; I punked him,” Smith said. “He talks garbage. I don’t like him. That was one-on-one, me and him. He lost. There isn’t much more to say. It’s a waste of my time. I mean, look at the scoreboard.”

Except I never asked Smith about Gamble; I asked him about his touchdown catches.

Understand that Gamble was a 5-foot-8, 160-pound walk-on junior college transfer thrown into an impossible situation. The Aztecs, already thin at cornerback, had lost their projected starter, Bishop Miller, to what turned out to be a season-long a suspension shortly before fall camp opened.

The Aztecs scrambled to find a warm body, and all they could come up with was Gamble. He literally filled out his paperwork for the Sports Information Office about who the heck he was after his first practice.

Following Smith’s tirade, I asked Will Demps, then an SDSU safety now in his seventh NFL season with the Houston Texans, what happened between Smith and Gamble. He said he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary for trash talk in a football game.

“Donte came into a tough situation and people pick on him,” said Demps, meaning quarterbacks, not bullies like Smith. “He’s short, but he’s a tough player. He’s leading the Mountain West (Conference) in passes defended (actually third). He’ll pick it up.”

Why would a guy like Smith with an NFL future care about embarrassing a player like Gamble that wouldn’t have been on a Division I-A football roster if the Aztecs’ projected starter had stayed out of trouble? I was tempted to tell Smith how foolish he sounded. Good thing I didn’t. With his temper, he might have unloaded on me.

Smith’s attack on Lucas isn’t his first fisticuffs with a teammate. In the 2002 season, he was suspended one game when he injured Anthony Bright in a fight that broke out in a team meeting room. Bright filed a civil suit that was settled out of court.

So, here are a few suggested taunts for Gamble directed at Smith:

“Anthony Bright punked you!”

“Ken Lucas will punk you one-on-one in court!”

“You talk garbage! You’re a waste of time!”

And, presuming the Chargers are winning the game since Smith’s absence will handicap the Panthers’ offense, one more taunt from Gamble:

“I mean, look at the scoreboard!”

—TOM SHANAHAN

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