Alex Smith Saw Both Patrick Mahomes and Colin Kaepernick Take His Shot at the Super Bowl: ‘It Was a Hard Road’

Alex Smith was a widely regarded prospect in the 2005 NFL draft who went first overall to the San Francisco 49ers. After a few rocky seasons, things started to look up for the quarterback. But an injury sidelined Smith and his starting position.

After getting traded and leading another team to a winning season after dismal ones, Smith again lost his starting position to another phenom quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. When the now-36-year-old reflects on the missed Super Bowl opportunities, he feels some kind of way.

Alex Smith, the 49ers guy

Smith was selected ahead of future superstar Aaron Rodgers, a decision that still haunts the 49ers. The first few years of his tenure with the team were difficult. He dealt with injury and a constant revolving door of new coaches and offensive coordinators. Finally, things started to settle down, and Smith hit his stride. The 49ers made it to the NFC Championship Game during the 2011 season before losing to the New York Giants.

The following year, Smith led the 49ers to a 6-2 start before suffering a concussion that sidelined him. While he was cleared to play the following week, head coach Jim Harbaugh started the young Colin Kaepernick instead. Kaepernick was more dynamic than Smith, and although the starting position was up for grabs each week, it soon became clear that Kaepernick was the new leader of the 49ers. 

When the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl in 2013, Smith watched from the sidelines as the backup. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31, and shortly afterward, Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Smith leads another struggling team

Quarterback Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass as head coach Andy Reid looks on in 2016
The Chiefs’ Alex Smith and Andy Reid in 2016 | Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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When Smith reached Kansas City, they were the worst team in the league. With new coach Andy Reid at the helm and Smith at quarterback, the team finished the season 11-5, losing a wild card game but still improving from the difficult seasons of the past.

Smith cruised through the next few years until 2017 when Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick, started getting playing time. The next year, Smith was traded again to the Washington Redskins.

The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2019, just after Smith was traded. It was another situation where Smith came into a losing team, helped turn things around, and then just fell short of winning a Super Bowl.

Alex Smith grapples with a life-changing injury

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Losing the Super Bowl in San Francisco and then just barely missing it in Kansas City would disappoint anyone, but Smith says he didn’t focus on that too much or getting traded, he was just happy to still be playing. He told GQ:

That was my 13th year in the league. At that point, I didn’t have much, “Why me?” I was like, “I got another year. I’m coming to Washington, I’m ready to go. I feel like I’m still reaching my potential, I just came off the best year in my career in year 13.”

The “why me” moment came after he suffered what looked like a career-ending leg injury in 2018. The severe injury required 17 surgeries. Smith also dealt with flesh-eating bacteria and sepsis. There was also talk of leg amputation — and that was when the dark thoughts crossed his mind.

He explained, “That’s when I really got dark. It was like, ‘Why me? How did this happen?’ I was playing football. And all of a sudden we’re talking about cutting off my leg.” Smith’s other option, as the doctors informed him, was to cut out muscles from other areas and put them in his leg to try to save it. But this would’ve crippled him in other ways.