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Justin Smith Looks Back on Storied 49ers Career

Justin Smith did it his way.

No suits. No sadness. And definitely no media hype.

After announcing his retirement from the National Football League, Smith, a 14-year veteran, politely answered questions on a media conference call to explain his rationale.

A made-for-television press conference was simply not in the cards for the humble defensive lineman, who preferred to do his talking with his shoulder pads and helmet.

(He did a lot of that by the way...)

"You come in, you go out, everything moves on," Smith said on Monday. "So this is no different... It was a good ride. You guys ain't going to get me in a room and make me cry and all that stuff. It was a pretty cut and dry decision the whole time and just went from there."

Smith cited shoulder concerns as the biggest reason in announcing his retirement. The constant collisions on the left side of his body left painful reminders of his 14 years in the league, split evenly with the Cincinnati Bengals and the 49ers.

Smith enjoyed his best seasons in San Francisco. He made five consecutive Pro Bowls, was twice selected by teammates as the 49ers MVP, racked up 43.5 sacks and helped lead three deep postseason runs from 2011-13.

San Francisco's defense earned a league-wide reputation for being one of the stingiest run defenses on a yearly basis. A lot of that had to do with Smith anchoring the unit as one of the game's top interior defensive linemen.

Smith didn't win a single playoff game in seven seasons with the Bengals. He did, however, win five in a three-year span in San Francisco.

The succesful run was not lost on Smith.

"You know, there's a lot of guys going into training camp this year, everybody's going to show up to training camp talking about they want to win a Super Bowl," Smith said. "And I was no different. Every year, there's only a 10-percent chance you think you can really win it. But, deep down, you know if you've got a team to do it.

"For four years there, the feeling walking into camp thinking you can win a Super Bowl was pretty cool."

Smith's relentless approach rubbed off on his teammates. He inspired them to sell out in the run game and raise their intensity to another level.

It also wasn't so hard to hustle when Smith was putting forth maximum effort at all times. Take for example Smith's forced fumble in a 2011 road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Many have circled the play as a moment that kick-started San Francisco's turnaround as a playoff contender. Smith chased down former Eagles wideout Jeremy Maclin some 20 yards down the left sideline and punched the ball free from behind.

Smith's forced fumble led to a comeback road victory over the Eagles, who led by 21 points at halftime.

But what does Smith recall most about the moment?

The flight home.

"What sticks out in my mind are the plane rides back after the big wins," he said. "And I mean, we just had fun. It didn't feel, I played a lot of football here and other places where it felt like a job because you're losing or this and that, or something wasn't right. Everything was just rolling together and we were just having fun."

Smith will now look to have fun in a different way.

No longer will he crash into opposing offensive linemen and try to eat up multiple blockers so his teammates can scrape sideline to sideline and make tackles. Smith said he plans on moving back to Missouri and possibly get involved in football in a different way.

"I'm sure I'll be doing something football related somewhere down the road," he said. "You know, don't think I'm going to get into whatever else other guys do all the time. You know, I figure, I'll just figure out, stick with what I know and stay around the game as much as I can. I don't know if that's coaching or maybe, [49ers CEO] Jed [York] wants to give me a good price on ownership with the Niners. I'm just kidding... You know, I don't know. I just imagine whatever it is, it'll be something football related. Strength or strength-room related, something like that."

Coaching and strength and conditioning instruction makes a lot of sense. Smith was spotted working out on the morning of his retirement by a local newspaper writer.

But would Smith, the outspoken and comical former football player, ever dare to make a living off of his words and analysis?

Would the bull-rushing hammer ever consider picking up a microphone, and dare we say, put on makeup to appear on television?

Not, so, fast.

"It would be fun if you saw me on talk shows and radio all the time after this, wouldn't it?" Smith joked when asked about joining the media ranks in the future. "But, no, I don't see that happening, no."

That's fine. We like Smith just the way he is.

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