Soon, Alex Smith will appear in Kansas City, smile, put on a Chiefs hat, and do most of the things he did when he first became a 49er almost eight years ago.
He will be full of hope and promise -- hey, he's still only 28. He will signal a new era. He will sound modest and thoughtful and enthusiastic.
Smith will be the same in so many important optimistic ways as he was in April 2005, when the entire 49ers universe lay at his feet.
But when he emerges in Kansas City after his trade from the 49ers for two high draft picks is official, Smith also will be weathered and wizened by his turbulent time as a 49er.
Importantly, the end of the Smith era for the 49ers is not the end for him or his old franchise. It's just another start.
And most important, Smith and the 49ers will be better for the whole experience -- and understand themselves better because of it.
That's Smith's truest legacy with the 49ers, I believe.
He's a reflection and a cause of everything that they were from April 2005 to March 2013, and that's the entire range from the silliness of Mike Nolan to the acceleration and achievements of Jim Harbaugh.
No. 11 tied it all together, he really did.
At the beginning, the 49ers weren't good enough for Smith and certainly weren't good enough to Smith while he learned the NFL and then suffered serious injuries.
At the end, Smith wasn't good enough for the 49ers, and they turned to Colin
And for a golden season-and-a-half -- 2011 through much of 2012 -- Smith and the 49ers were exactly and beautifully in sync with each other.
It's the history of the 49ers in the past eight years, all told through Smith's biography.
OK, there's another strong legacy: Smith handled just about every dip and rise with graceful perseverance, which is no minor feat when you're talking about the magnitude and multitude of events surrounding Smith.
That's why he lasted eight seasons -- no No. 1 overall pick has ever stuck it out through so many failures, controversies and injuries. None of them have ever wanted to.
But Smith wanted to, and that was a symbol of the underlying strength of what was happening with the 49ers.
Smith was strong enough to endure a lot of chaos, and the roster was strong enough for him to know that good things were coming.
So when Harbaugh arrived, Smith was the first one to fully comprehend what was about to happen; literally, Smith was Harbaugh's first convert, and from there everything was a sprint back to the playoffs.
Really, there were a hundred defining moments in Smith's 49ers career, but for me, that career boils down to three very separate moments that trace his transition from mishandled innocent to stubborn leader to locker room leader.
In chronological order:
Nolan thought he was showing the world that the team's troubles were mostly Smith's fault, and some in the locker room believed him.
But Smith's volley, and the subsequent events, proved that Nolan was the one who had lost his way and never had an idea about the quarterback position.
That was the continued theme through Mike Singletary's stormy tenure, too: Would the 49ers ever know what to do with Smith and the QB spot?
Smith cemented that by agreeing to come back to the 49ers and then leading the 49ers through "Camp Alex" at San Jose State during the long lockout; Smith wasn't a team leader before then, but the arrival of Harbaugh plus Smith's status as a survivor made "Camp Alex" a signature moment for him and the franchise.
But I think the proper coda to his 49ers career came after he'd been benched for Kaepernick, handled it diplomatically, and got a last cameo appearance at Candlestick in the last regular-season game of 2012.
I'll remember Smith's wide smile as he acknowledged a small standing ovation, his brief wave, and the complexity of emotions that had to be running through his head right then.
The team was better than ever, and he was leaving.
His teammates surrounded him -- as they had been surrounding Smith figuratively the entire time since he lost his job.
Smith had never been more popular, more respected and more appreciated by his teammates and by 49ers fans than then, when the team had moved on from him.
That was his unofficial exit, and it was a good one.
Now Smith is a Chief, with a chance to use what he learned and be a part of another franchise's revitalization.
He deserves it, after everything that happened to him in 49ersland.
Which is what happens to the good guys, and there is no doubt, Alex Smith is and has always been one of them.