I first started the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. At the time I was just a blogger and gaining access to anything the 49ers did was definitely not on my radar. However, it was exciting for me to cover the team I grew up watching and hoping that the Niners could get back to respectability.
I had a lot of hope in Alex Smith. He as entering his third season with the team and he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders as the top overall pick in 2005. This is where I started focusing a lot of my writing on him and the team. It was some ups and downs in those two years until I finally got credentialed.
Gaining credential access to the 49ers was a big deal for me. The Niners at the time never gave access to online media journalists — the concept was too new and bloggers like myself were an unpredictable unknown. I was just grateful that I worked hard enough and published enough quality content that the team decided that I was worth considering. I was only able to cover a few practices here and there but that was enough for me. That was when I got to interview and meet Alex Smith.
One thing that I have to say about him was that he was always approachable. I don’t think he ever get the pressure or the limelight get to him. He was always ready and willing to talk even though most times he was bombarded with tough question.
My first opportunity to have a one-on-one talk with him was during the summer of 2009. There was a promotion in which an early screening of a remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123” was premiered. I don’t remember who was promoting it but I got access to the event. It was a semi red carpet feel as several 49ers players were in attendance on the red carpet, answering questions from reporters. I believe I was the only sports reporter present there.
I got a chance to meet Patrick Willis and ask him questions too. Shortly after talking with him, Alex Smith made his way to me. We chatted briefly about the team but mainly focused on his favorite movies and what he liked about John Travolta, one of the actors in this film. I don’t remember all the details about that meeting but I was grateful that he was willing to snap a photo with me. His wife Liz also was there too and was really kind to me as well.
That was my first experience getting to talk with him. I always wanted the best for him and getting to finally meet him was really special for me.
I continued covering the team until the end of the 2011 season. We all know how magical that 2011 season was for the team. They were one win away from making the Super Bowl and Alex was a huge part of that success. I remember being in the stands at the NFC Championship Game and the eruption of of the fans cheering for him during the player introductions was something I have never heard before.
This was a huge 180-degree turn from the previous season in which fans vocally called for Smith to be replaced by David Carr. But of course, a coaching change and some consistency led to Smith guiding the Niners to one of the most impressive finishes in NFL history.
I think that I can say that Alex Smith was one of the most professional players I ever worked with in my three official seasons interacting and covering the team. He always made himself available to reporters even though there were days when he probably didn’t want to talk to the media. (I think that’s most days for most players.) But when he did talk, he was always courteous and made sure he was able to answer as many questions he could as best as he could.
One thing that I did find difficult with him was that he wasn’t very quotable. As a reporter, I always hope that a player would say something that was outstanding or attention-grabbing. Smith never did that. In fact, when he answered, he wouldn’t answer in complete sentences. These weren’t bad things. He talked as if he as talking to any other friend. But that also made him pretty reliable in my opinion. I know he would never say anything controversial and he would give me what I needed to hear. Sometimes it’s a cliché but that’s OK. He was a professional through and through.
He was always giving and perhaps that’s what will always stand out for me. He never threw anyone under the bus and he never complained. He had every right to complain with his constant rotations of new offensive coordinator (seven different ones in seven seasons) and some poor mismanagement by Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary as head coaches. Despite all that, he put in his work and was able to make a great career out of it.
It was a lot of pressure and people can easily say that he didn’t live up to the hype of being the #1 draft pick. That’s fine. But when it comes to being an absolute pro. That’s him. And when it comes to toughness and determination, there is no better example than him
He probably doesn’t remember me. That’s OK. I don’t need that validation. I am grateful that I got a chance to work with the ultimate pro, seeing him succeed after some rough stretches to start his career. There’s no specific memorable interview that I had with him. And that’s probably the best compliment I could give him. He was exactly what I knew he was to be and was reliable in that regards.
Congratulations on a great career, Alex. You’ve earned it.