NEW ORLEANS -- Defensive lineman Justin Smith is reveling in the Super Bowl experience that he wasn't sure was going to happen for him.
Finally, in his 12th NFL season, Smith has realized his dream of playing in a Super Bowl as a key member of the 49ers stout defense.
"To play this game for so long, you start thinking, 'Man, are we ever going to get there? Are we ever going to get the opportunity?' " Smith said Tuesday. "To finally be here, it's pretty crazy. The main thing is, you want to win the game. You don't ever remember who lost the game. That's our main focus right now."
Smith's dream of playing in the game almost got derailed when he suffered a partially torn triceps tendon against the New England Patriots on Dec. 16.
He missed the latter part of that game, as well as the 49ers final two regular-season games. He returned in time for the 49ers first playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.
Even then, he said, he wasn't sure how his left elbow and triceps would hold up until he went through a rigorous pre-game workout before the Packers game.
Some players might have tried to pace themselves with such an injury, with the overall picture in mind. Smith said he vowed to go as hard as he could, for as long as he can.
"The first game against Green Bay, you're just going out there, 'I'm just going to play as long as I can play,' " Smith said. "You really can't hold anything back. Getting comfortable with playing with the brace, learning the limitations that you have with it, that's been a little bit of a learning process.
"It got a little bit better in Atlanta and hopefully it gets a little better this week. It's just different. I was thinking, I'm not going to hold anything back. I was just going to play until I couldn't play anymore."
Now Smith can fully turn it loose, knowing that there isn't another game until August. Smith is slated for surgery soon after the season to repair the tendon.
Smith said he never gave it much thought about failing to reach the Super Bowl in any of his first 11 NFL seasons. He just kept plugging away, confident that his time would come.
"I would have when my career was totally over, maybe have been a little disappointed never to made it that far," Smith said. "But this has been cool. It would be unreal" to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.