Says Bryan Curtis on

The $8 million a year contract he got last week from ESPN is proof that he’s the most important employee at the network, if not all of sports TV.

“I consider me the American Dream,” Smith tweeted.

Sure, he may confuse an NFL punter with a quarterback or cheerfully throw an ESPN colleague like Baxter Holmes under the bus. But there was almost no backlash to Smith’s contract. For a guy who was once the most polarizing man on sports TV, reactions to Smith now land somewhere between wary admiration and full-blown love. There’s a political term for that kind of turnaround. America has Strange New Respect for Stephen A.

To understand how wild this is, go back to 2005. Smith was an Inquirer columnist who’d just landed his first ESPN show. It was the time of the first great Stephen A. panic. A dozen think pieces asked: “Is this man the future of sports media?!”