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MailTribune.com
  • Niners quarterback Smith still a stand-up guy

  • SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alex Smith has won the job, lost the job, got hurt on the job, reinvented himself on the job, and experienced any number of other flips and flops as a high-profile 49ers employee.
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  • SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alex Smith has won the job, lost the job, got hurt on the job, reinvented himself on the job, and experienced any number of other flips and flops as a high-profile 49ers employee.
    You want perspective on the hurly-burly of the 49ers quarterback spot? Smith has got it — from every angle, with every emotion.
    Now, after losing his job when an injury opened the door for Colin Kaepernick, Smith is watching Kaepernick lead the 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII against Baltimore.
    So, leave it to Smith to provide the best, sanest perspective on the whole phenomenon.
    "Yeah, he got an opportunity, stepped up and made the most of it — that's the deal," Smith said in front of his locker Wednesday.
    "I mean, that's how I got my start in college, it was no different. Guy in front of me got hurt, and that's how I got my first start.
    "So it'd be pretty hypocritical to be upset about it. It's just the nature of team sports."
    Let the record show that Utah incumbent starter Brett Elliott suffered a broken wrist in the first game of the Utes' 2003 season, and in stepped Smith — who immediately beat Cal and Aaron Rodgers in Week 2, and never looked back.
    Smith went 21-1 in two years as a starter, turned into the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, and Elliott ended up transferring to Division II Linfield College.
    Sound a little familiar?
    Maybe that's why Smith has been so gracious about the switch to Kaepernick, which coach Jim Harbaugh insists was not preplanned and happened only because Smith suffered a concussion in the team's ninth game this season.
    Smith doesn't have to love the situation, but he's not about to complain about it, either — that wouldn't be right for the 49ers, or for him.
    "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little bittersweet — yeah, I want to be out there," Smith said.
    "But at the same time, it's a team sport, and these are all my teammates. You go through so much together, especially a lot of these guys that have been here for a chunk of time now.
    "If you can't be happy for them, then there's something wrong with you, you know. For sure — if you're asking me if I want to be out there. But I mean, that's secondary to this."
    Left tackle Joe Staley, one of Smith's best friends on the team, said Smith was one of the happiest guys in the locker room after the 49ers beat Atlanta on Sunday.
    That means something to everyone on the team, Staley said, not that it's surprising coming from Smith.
    "It's awesome," Staley said. "It's been documented how much I feel for Alex in the whole situation.
    "But the kind of character — you talk about high-character guys, there's no better example than Alex.
    "We wouldn't be in this situation without him, you know. He won a lot of games for us, he won games this season. A great teammate."
    It's obviously an awkward situation for Smith, who assuredly knows that even 49ers fans wonder if they'd have gotten this far if he was still the QB.
    For his part, he directs all praise to Kaepernick, above and beyond his former understudy's gargantuan athletic gifts.
    "I think the thing I've been impressed with most is, not so much the playmaking — I knew that, I think guys around here knew that," Smith said. "I think it's the lack of young mistakes that's really jumped out at me. Most young guys that come in, yeah, they show flashes and they can play good at times. But then they also seem to have those young moments as well — rookie moments and kind of bone-headed things.
    "And he hasn't done it, period. You know, he's played good ball. Really played patient, played smart."
    Smith said he will approach the next week-plus as he has the previous 10 weeks as Kaepernick's backup.
    He'll get ready to play in the game if needed, and he'll be ready to help wherever he sees a chance.
    But Smith will also be faced with a weeklong slew of questioning during Super Bowl Week, all wondering the same thing:
    What does it feel like to lose your job on an injury, and have your replacement turn into an instant icon?
    Smith will just answer every question, I'm sure, like he answered them Wednesday: With patience and perspective.
    At the end of his session, I asked him if, after all he has been through and all the games he has won recently, he could imagine himself accepting a backup role next season.
    It's a possibility — the 49ers could theoretically pay Smith the $8.5 million he's owed and keep him as the No. 2 QB, whether Smith wanted to stay or not.
    But I doubt the 49ers would do that if Smith is determined to seek a new start.
    "There'll be a time to talk about all that stuff after this game," Smith said. "Like I said, for now, just concentrating on the game plan."
    Really, all he can do is roll with it. Smith has been through so much, he knows you can't plan; you can only deal with what comes next, whatever it is, and however it changes your career.
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