Give Alex Smith credit, for this at least. The new Chiefs quarterback isn’t pretending the appearance of the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night in his new football home at Arrowhead Stadium isn’t at least a little bit unsettling.
“We’re playing my old team and a lot of the guys I played with for awhile,” Smith said. “It’s a preseason game and it’s just another step. It’s another preseason game and then again it’s not.”
Reunions between players and their former teams happen all the time in the transient world of the NFL. The Chiefs went through this sort of thing several years ago with Joe Montana and the 49ers. The Chiefs’ new head coach, Andy Reid, will go through it next month when the Chiefs play against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Smith’s history with the 49ers makes his story compelling. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith was supposed to be a savior for a franchise that had lost its way. He instead looked like a bust for the first few seasons of his career as both Smith and the 49ers struggled to find their way.
Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach in 2011 and dramatically changed both the 49ers and Smith. San Francisco won its first division title in nine years behind the solid play of Smith, who guided them to the NFC championship game.
There, an overtime loss to the Giants kept them out of the Super Bowl. But San Francisco finally seemed like a long-term home for Smith.
Smith and the 49ers were back at it last year. Smith was the NFL’s top-rated passer and the 49ers were 6-2 when he left their lineup during a game against St. Louis because of a concussion.
Smith missed only the rest of that game and one other, but by the time he returned, the 49ers had given his job to his backup, Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers this time did advance to the Super Bowl, where, with Smith as a backup, they lost to Baltimore.
Since joining the Chiefs, Smith has acknowledged hard feelings over losing his job to an injury. He saved some harsh comments for The New York Times. He was quoted in a recent article that he wanted to “stick it” to those who doubted him.
He didn’t specify any person or team, but the comment seemed aimed at Harbaugh and the 49ers.
“It was not directed at them at all,” Smith said this week. “Just in general. Just over the years some things you go through. It builds up.
“Those guys gave me an opportunity. They have given me a couple of opportunities over the years there, Coach Harbaugh and that crew, especially over the last couple of years. Obviously, we disagreed with what happened last year, but you move on from it. So, no, that was not solely directed to them at all.”
The Chiefs this week didn’t appear concerned that the thought of facing the 49ers was affecting Smith’s preparation. Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said he didn’t think it was enough of an issue to even speak with Smith about it.
“Alex’s personality and mentality is even-keeled,” Pederson said. “That’s just what you’re going to get with him. He doesn’t get too high or too low. That’s great for a quarterback to have.
“He’ll settle in and get in to the game plan and get into the game and however long he plays, he’ll play and he’ll do well.”
To do that, Smith will have to forget that the 49ers made a strong statement in making the change at quarterback last year. Harbaugh believed the 49ers would be a better team with Kaepernick at quarterback.
After the season, they had little choice but to trade Smith.
“It’s personal with Alex,” Harbaugh said. “(I) feel like there’s a great friendship there and a lot of history. He’s a unique person. A very good, in all ways, a good friend. No longer on our team. Not a trusted agent anymore. I know the competitor he is and he wants to win and we do as well.
“Long and good memories of the time when we were teammates, a personal friendship. Then we wish him the best. A long and healthy and successful career. Great memories of his leadership and his play. Just the kind of person he was. You go up and down the locker room, a guy that was universally respected by his teammates and his coaches. Long list of great memories.”
Smith’s career with the Chiefs got off to a good start in last week’s preseason opener in New Orleans. Smith and the rest of the offensive starters played just one possession, but drove 80 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown.
Smith completed seven of his eight passes. He said he could have similar results against the 49ers because once the game begins, the past is forgotten.
“At that point, you’re playing the game,” he said. “You’re just trying to execute plays, make good decisions out there, execute the offense.”