KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Now a quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Alex Smith treads carefully when the subject of the 49ers is broached.He politely talks about the positive days he spent with them, and then seems to usher along the conversation whenever their divorce is brought up.
After all, he's with the Kansas City Chiefs now. No need to dwell on the past.
But most would quickly forgive him if he wanted to “stick it” to the 49ers — a phrase he used in a recent interview to refer more generally to his doubters. Smith had San Francisco headed back to the playoffs last season when he sustained a head injury, and when he was healthy enough to return, he found he had lost his job to Colin Kaepernick.
He never got it back as Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, and then was shipped to Kansas City for a pair of draft picks this past offseason.
Now, he'll get a chance to see many of his former teammates — and show 49ers brass what they discarded — when they visit Arrowhead Stadium for a preseason game tonight.
“Those guys gave me an opportunity, a couple opportunities over the years there,” Smith said this week. “Obviously we disagreed what happened last year, but we move on from it.”
Yes, there will certainly be a mixed bag of emotions when Smith steps on the field, gazes across the line of scrimmage and sees guys such as Aldon Smith and Donte Whitner, with whom he spent so much of his professional career but who are suddenly trying to take off his head.
The 49ers once made Smith the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and then stuck by him when many labeled him a bust. They gave him one more chance when Jim Harbaugh was hired as the coach a couple of years ago, and he finally made the most of it by leading them to a 13-3 record.
Smith was playing steadily along last season, too, until the injury occurred. Even now, he argues that he lost his job without ever doing anything wrong.
“I know the competitor he is, and he wants to win and we do as well,” Harbaugh said. “It feels different right now. 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.”
Just like that? Well, in a way, yes.
The 49ers have obviously moved on with Kaepernick, and the Chiefs are thrilled to have Smith stabilizing a position that has been in flux for the better part of a decade.
“I can't wait to see him,” 49ers running back Frank Gore said. “Me and Alex, we came in together. When I get out there I'm going to go look for him. … As long as he's happy and he's doing well, I'm happy for him.”
Whether that's the case, only Smith knows for sure.
Smith always seems to have a level head, his voice even and tone measured as he answers the most probing of questions. He's about as unflappable with a camera in his face as he has been in the huddle the past few years, when he put together a 19-5-1 record as a starting quarterback.
“Alex's personality and mentality has just been even-keeled,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “He doesn't get too high or too low and that's great for a quarterback.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who will go through similar emotions when he leads his new team into Philadelphia in September, didn't sound concerned that a game oozing with such intrigue — albeit a preseason game — would distract Smith as he prepares for the regular season.
“I think he'll handle it,” Reid said. “He's going to know a lot of people, obviously. There will be that part of it, guys he hasn't seen for a few months here. But once it's all said and done, it's playing the game, and I think he'll handle that fine.”
Smith handled it just fine in the Chiefs' preseason opener against New Orleans, when his only incompletion on a touchdown drive was a ball thrown away.
The Saints defense was ghastly last season, though. So aside from any personal feelings about San Francisco, preseason game No. 2 should give Smith and the rest of the Kansas City offense a better barometer of their progress against one of the league's stingiest units.
“Regardless of if I used to play there, they're a good defensive unit. They're a really good defensive unit,” Smith said, “and they'll be a good test for us. They don't have too many weaknesses on that side of the ball. It'll be a really good test for us.”
Smith had the 49ers headed back to the playoffs last season when he sustained a head injury, and when he was healthy enough to return, he found he had lost his job to Colin Kaepernick.