SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In the twilight of a career that has seen soaring highs and crushing lows — including a devastating injury that threatened his life — Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith is once again preparing to face the team that launched his pro career.
Smith spoke with Bay Area reporters ahead of Washington’s trip to face the San Francisco 49ers and reflected on his career, his tenure with the 49ers and his fondness for the Bay Area. It will be the second time Smith has faced his former team; the first time was in 2014 when Smith was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.
It won’t be a return to the Bay Area since the 49ers home game will be played at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County. But the former No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, who at times was booed out of Candlestick Park before becoming a fan favorite, said he envisions returning to the Bay Area once he decides to retire.
“My wife is from the Bay Area. All three of my kids were born at Stanford. It’s still the plan for that to be home for us,” Smith said. “The Bay Area is a place really special to us. We’ve spent a lot of time there in the offseason and getting back it is amazing to be out and about and have that kind of response.”
Smith has made a remarkable comeback to the NFL after a compound leg fracture in 2018 which led to life-threatening necrotizing fasciitis and talk of amputation. Seventeen surgeries and a brutal rehabilitation regimen later, Smith returned to the active roster in Week 5 of the 2020 season and now is looking to lead Washington to the playoffs.
Smith said his time with the 49ers seems like “a lifetime ago,” and that the experiences – which included media and fan criticism, a revolving door of head coaches and offensive coordinators, and losing seasons before leading the team to success — have helped him in his later career.
“I learned so much. I think that it helped me, not just in football but [in] my life, since then. And certainly, for me, I’m talking a lot about the early years and dealing with expectations, and anxiety and weight [of expectations]. And obviously, how it affected my play and I think a lot of that mindset and attitude you go into that with, I really learned a lot from that,” said Smith. ”And then as well, those last couple of years, for sure, when we finally got it going and turned around, and no doubt that confidence I think that really started there is what I took with me as well.”
After a breakout playoff win in 2011, Smith suffered a concussion in the 2012 season and never got back onto the field after recovering. His back up, Colin Kaepernick, retained the job despite Smith leading the league in QB rating. Traded to the Chiefs in 2013, Smith led them to five playoff appearances over five seasons before signing with Washington in 2018.
But the struggles that Smith went through with the 49ers contain life lessons that he will impart to any young QB who seeks his counsel.
“It was hard, yeah, really hard. I don’t wish that on anybody … I think that’s certainly part of also why I think I want to help young QBs, for me, I don’t want anybody to go through that,” said Smith. “I learned a lot from it. I don’t think it’s totally necessary and it doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of that was my fault as well. It can get handled differently, and I’ve witnessed it.”
Smith says there is no revenge factor facing the 49ers this time around since his time with the team is so far removed from today and there are not many people left with the organization from the time he was there.
Smith says the list of people he owes a debt of gratitude to for his career is long, especially in the last couple of years following his injury. While he is signed with Washington through 2022, Smith is not looking too far ahead for his plans next year.
“When the season is done I owe my wife a chance for some input and we’ll have time for that then, but right now loving each and every week lacing my cleats up and putting the helmet on and trying to really live that right now.”