KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The highlight reel was short, but the handshake line was long. He embraced Scott Tolzien warmly. He shook hands with guards Adam Snyder and Mike Iupati. Too much water, not enough bridges.
“I don’t know if it was weird seeing him in red,” San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone said of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, his teammate from 2010-12. “But it was weird seeing him on the opposite sideline, you know? It was definitely an eye-opener.
“You go one year from blocking for him and making sure nobody touches him to wanting to make sure your defense gets a hat on him.”
The hats came fast and furious Friday night, much to Smith’s chagrin. In his first appearance in a Chiefs uniform before the home folks, the new Kansas City signal-caller was sacked three times, and appeared to be running for his life on a half-dozen more occasions during a 15-13 defeat.
“There was a lot of talking out there,” Smith told reporters after the tilt. “Back and forth from a lot of guys.”
More often than not, it was the Niners getting in the last word. Smith played on all seven of the hosts’ offensive series in the first half, completing just 7 of 16 throws for 62 yards.
Of his first five pass attempts, four were fired under serious duress. Of his nine first-half incompletions, three were dropped.
In other words, the man had help.
At one point in the second quarter, 49ers defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie rolled in and laid out Smith, San Francisco’s No. 1 overall pick in 2005, with a helmet-to-helmet hit. It became a recurring, unpleasant theme: The Chiefs surrendered seven sacks on the night.
“There were some protection issues,” coach Andy Reid said.
Some family issues, too.
“It was different and it was somewhat personal, in the best kind of way,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Blood is blood, business is business, and ne’er the twain. The narrative came, the narrative went, and the narrative roughed him up a little along the way.
But it’s over. The circus moves on. If there’s a silver lining for Smith and the Chiefs out of Friday, it’s that.
“He doesn’t have any vengeful (feelings) or spitefulness,” said Niners tackle Joe Staley, one of Smith’s closer confidants in the San Francisco locker room. “I think he’s closed that chapter in his life, that chapter with the Niners. And he’s moved on to the Chiefs now.”
If Smith had any excess nerves, it didn’t show during pregame, in which he was seen chatting amiably with Harbaugh, his former coach and the one who green-lit his trade from the west coast to Kansas City in March.
“I remember the first time I played against my former team,” Harbaugh said, “and it was a great thrill. I’m sure he felt that (Friday).”
That and a few other things, not all of them pleasant. There was history in play, after all. History and scar tissue.
Smith was designated as The Chosen One on the Bay after being selected No. 1 overall, but found himself hamstrung by a series of defensive-minded coaches — Mike Nolan, then Mike Singletary — and a dizzying run of six different offensive coordinators over his first six seasons with the Niners. There was the shoulder injury that slowed him up in 2007 and wiped out the season in 2008. Through his first 32 games as a pro, he’d thrown 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions; in his first 30 starts, his teams went 11-19. He was being whispered in the same unfortunate breath as Ryan Leaf.
Failure gave way to limbo and, finally, redemption. The train lurched forward again in the fall of 2011, when he grabbed a hold of the starting job and piloted the Niners to the NFC Championship game in the 2011-12 postseason. He was even the top-rated passer in the NFL last fall, having led San Francisco to six wins in its first eight tilts, when a concussion knocked him out of the lineup. Smith lost his job because of an injury, a violation of unwritten NFL omerta; Harbaugh rode the arms and legs of Colin Kaepernick all the way to Super Bowl XLVII.
Smith watched, quietly. Professionally. Happily? No chance. When the new Chiefs quarterback told the New York Times that he and Reid would “love to stick it everybody who thought we couldn’t do it,” you could understand the raw feelings at play.
“All the hype is over,” Boone said, his voice barely masking the relief.
“And you know, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, now we wish him the best for the year. We hope he kills it.’ But at the same time, you know, you’ve just got to keep moving forward. Just happy it’s over.”
Smith is, too. And he’s got the bruises to prove it.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.