Alex Smith experienced the high of walking across the stage after hearing his name called as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
He experienced the low of hearing an angry crowd at Candlestick Park chant for his benching.
Smith helped lead the 49ers -- and himself -- out of a dark place in one of the franchise’s great postseason moments.
Then, his career with the 49ers ended with him holding a clipboard on the sideline of the Super Bowl after he was benched while in the midst of a career year.
“It does seem like a lifetime ago,” Smith, 36, said in a conference call Thursday with the Bay Area media. “Football years, I guess, kind of age you.”
Smith had a tumultuous eight years with the 49ers. He had to learn seven different systems from seven different offensive coordinators in seven seasons.
His first coach, Mike Nolan, intimated that an injury to Smith’s shoulder injury was no big deal just before he went on season-ending injured reserve and missed the entire next season. His next coach, Mike Singletary, did nothing to develop Smith, whom he benched repeatedly over the course of 2 1/2 seasons.
Smith finally seemed to find stability with Jim Harbaugh as head coach ... until Smith was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick after sustaining a concussion in the middle of the 2012 season.
“I learned so much, I think, that it helped not just in football but in my life since then,” Smith said.
Of course, Smith is the best comeback story of the NFL season and he will lead a surging Washington team, winners of three consecutive contests, into a game against the 49ers on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.
Smith sustained a compound fracture of his right leg in Week 11 of the 2018 season. He nearly lost his leg. He nearly lost his life to an insidious infection.
Early in his career, Smith said he dealt with the expectations, anxiety and weight of being the No. 1 overall pick in a 2005 draft that saw Aaron Rodgers as the next quarterback chosen at No. 24 overall.
Smith said he learned lessons that he passes along to young quarterbacks who are entering the NFL with vast expectations.
“Nobody has it easy,” he said. “You’re never going to make everybody happy. Don’t try. Be confident in who you are and be comfortable in your own skin and go out there and own that.
“That was my biggest problem those first few years was really trying to have everybody like me ... That’s just so unrealistic, not practical and it’s never going to happen and it’s not a great way to live life or play football.”
Smith said the success he enjoyed on the field over his final season-and-a-half with the 49ers helped him create his own identity as a quarterback. He took that skill set and frame of mind with him to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he had a successful five-year run before Patrick Mahomes replaced him.
“So often we get compared to one another,” Smith said. “As players, especially quarterbacks, be comfortable with how you do it. There are a lot of ways to play quarterback in this league. I think right now, you look across the league, there are a lot of guys doing it different ways and have a lot of success. Find your own game and own that.”
Smith said he was set on being a prototypical, pocket quarterback during his years with the 49ers because that was the expectation of NFL quarterbacks. Obviously, he wishes he and his coaches knew then what everybody is finding out now.
“[It’s] funny how much it’s changed since then because now it’s so fun to watch guys coming into the league and get to use all their talents,” Smith said.
What Smith has experienced to get back on the field is impossibly hard. And what he went through during his time with the 49ers was as difficult as it could possibly get within the context of football.
“It was hard -- really hard,” he said. “No, I don’t wish that on anybody. I think that’s certainly part of why [I’m] trying to help young QBs for me. I don’t want anybody to go through that. It was very, very difficult. It was a hard road to go down.
“I learned a lot from it, but I don’t think it’s totally necessary. I don’t think it had to be that way. Looking back, a lot of it was my fault, as well.”