EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Growing up in Charlotte, N.C., Hakeem Nicks was a tried and true Carolina Panthers supporter.
On Thursday night, he'll line up against them.
"I was a big Steve Smith fan," said Nicks, a co-leading receiver of the New York Giants, and an eager veteran itching to meet Carolina and its veteran wideout for the first time as a professional this week. "I liked the Panthers. I liked Steve Smith's heart. He plays with a lot of heart and he's a great athlete. I hoped to be like him."
Well, he's on his way.
In two games, Nicks has combined with running mate Victor Cruz on 31 catches as the Super Bowl champions have posted a 1-1 start. Nicks has 237 yards receiving and a touchdown, the kind of start that would make Smith — who in 2005 led the league in receptions (103), yards (1,563) and touchdowns (12) — proud.
"It's really big for me," Nicks said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I have a lot of family and friends that are going to be there."
When asked how many tickets he had to purchase, Nicks' reply was simple.
"It's my first time going back home," Nicks said. "We had a preseason game there last year, but I didn't get on the field much. This is for real. It was always a dream to be able to play there. So I circled this on the calendar a long time ago."
Nicks has been battling a foot injury — suffered during the offseason — that required surgery. He did not practice or play much during preseason.
On Sunday, in the 41-34 win over Tampa Bay, the fourth-year receiver out of North Carolina had 10 receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown. Nicks has 14 receptions in the first two games. Nicks said that he felt fine after the big game, even though his injured foot was stepped on twice. He came up limping each time.
"The game made the foot feel better," Nicks said. "It was definitely better than ice."
Nicks did not practice Tuesday, the team's lone full practice day before facing the Panthers (1-1). He spent some of the practice time on a stationary bike.