SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Alex Smith didn't greet the news as anything too significant.
"It's nice," he said after being named one of the San Francisco 49ers team captains on Wednesday. But receiving the title on a Mike Singletary-coach team carries plenty of meaning.
After all, this wasn't a team vote. As Singletary said, "I voted."
So it was unanimous. Smith will be a team captain for the first time in his NFL career, joining Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Justin Smith and injured Eric Heitmann. But there was no question he earned it.
"I look at it this way: I didn't name him a captain because he's the quarterback, I named him captain because he exemplified this offseason the things I want our captains to do," Singletary said. "When you talk about the identity of the 49ers, Alex really put in the time.
"He was out here (on the practice field) when no one was out here. He was the guy who got the receivers together and threw to them, and he changed the schedule around to meet with some other receivers. He wasn't doing it just once a day, he was doing it twice a day."
What a difference a year makes. Smith sat on the bench behind Shaun Hill when the 49ers opened the 2009 regular season. He didn't get his first start until Nov. 1. Now he's a team leader and captain.
"It doesn't necessarily change anything about how guys view you or your role on the team," Smith said. "You get the ‘C' on your chest, but you still have to go out there and play."
Now it's for real. The 49ers open the season Sunday in Seattle, where bad memories still linger over a 20-17 loss to the Seahawks in December that might have kept them out of the playoffs. Among several mistakes were a Frank Gore fumble in the fourth quarter at the Seattle 22-yard line and a botched exchange on a punt return handoff between Brandon Jones and Arnaz Battle.
"There's no question we left a lot on the field," Smith said. "A couple of opportunities there at the end to seal the game offensively, driving the ball down, a missed opportunity in the red zone. Turnovers late cost us the game and gave them an opportunity to make the plays in the end.
"It's a whole new year so you put that behind you. When we look back, we see how far we've come."
And how far Smith has come. Unlike last season, there was never any question that he was the 49ers' starting quarterback. Some wondered if the signing of David Carr in March was intended to create another quarterback battle for Smith, but Singletary said emphatically it wasn't.
"There was no talk that (Carr) was going to compete for No. 1," Singletary said testily in response to a question. "It doesn't matter who else said it, I'm the head coach and I didn't say it. I did want him to push Alex, but he was not competing for No. 1 because I did not want another situation (like last year)."
No chance of that, at least not now. It's Alex Smith's team.