March 1, 2008
On this day in 2008, the 49ers signed free agent defensive lineman Justin Smith. The change in environment for the former Cincinnati Bengals first-round draft pick imbued Smith with a new energy and excitement on the gridiron. Smith anchored San Francisco's defensive line from 2008-2014, starting 110 games and registering 43.5 sacks. Smith immediately won the hearts of the Faithful while playing in just his third game with the 49ers when he intercepted a Jon Kitna pass to seal a win over the Detroit Lions.
"The Cowboy," named such for his hard-nosed, blue-collar work ethic, Smith continued to tally up defensive statistics. In seven of his eight years in San Francisco, Smith notched at least 5.0 sacks each season. He also posted at least 5.0 sacks in four-consecutive seasons (only the third player in 49ers history to do so). His single-game record was set against the St. Louis Rams on January 3, 2010 when he hit the opposing quarterback 3.5 times. Smith's reliability on the field also transferred over to the locker room, where he became a team leader and mentor to incoming players.
Smith's football accomplishments did not go unnoticed. He went on to earn All-Pro honors in 2011 and 2012 as well as five-consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 2009-2013. His hard work and leadership were also acknowledged by his teammates and coaches. In 2012, Smith was selected by his teammates as the Len Eshmont Award winner, the 49ers most prestigious honor. He is also a two-time recipient (2008, 2011) of the club's Bill Walsh Award, the 49ers team MVP, as voted by the coaching staff.
After the 2014 season, Smith retired from the NFL and returned to his hometown of Holts Summit, Missouri, where he owns the Railwood Golf Club. The course and its clubhouse, built on Smith's grandfather's old farmland, has become a gathering spot for the residents of the town.