SAN JOSE – Antonio Smith was made for Super Bowl media day. The former Raider and current Denver Broncos defensive lineman is a big personality and alter ego named “the ninja” that plays well to the crowd.
Cameras remained focused on Peyton Manning, and the ninja outfit didn’t accompany Smith to SAP center. He was in league-issued garb, unfortunately adhering to protocol.
“This is team issued, officially licensed apparel I’ve got on,” Smith said, tugging on logo-adorned white and gold jacket. “There are very strict guidelines about what you can wear. I’m not trying to get fined, so I left the ninja in the suitcase.
“No samurai swords either. I’d never get through security. That’s all right though. I’m always a ninja on the inside.”
Fans quickly fell for Smith during his season Oakland, a source of life and optimism during a dark 2014 campaign. He didn’t complete his two-year contract with the club, released last offseason by a new head coach in Jack Del Rio who prefers bigger defensive tackles.
That was a temporary disappointment for Smith, who enjoyed his time with the Raiders and said repeatedly that 2014’s trials was the beginning of something better.
“When we played them last I went up to (Raiders owner) Mark Davis and told him I saw the improvement coming,” Smith said. “I know it didn’t look like it at the time, but progress was being made. Improvement was on the horizon, and they got it figured out. They were on the right track, and now it looks a whole lot better.”
The Raiders improved from 3-13 to 7-9 in Del Rio’s first season at the helm, using a solid young foundation to produce better results. Smith is an AFC West rival now – he reunited with Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, who coached him in Houston – but still has affinity for his former team.
“I was only in Oakland for a year, but part of my heart belongs there,” Smith said. “You could say that about every place I’ve been. It’s hard because I’m a Bronco, but it still put a smile on my face to see the improvements that they made.”
Smith is happy with his current lot, excited to play the second Super Bowl of his career. He was with Arizona during their runner-up season in 2008. Smith says this is the best defense he’s ever played on, and hopes to leave this Super Bowl with a happier ending than the last time out.
“I wouldn’t say there isn’t a great appreciation for the opportunity,” Smith said. “I would say there’s a more precise focus. I walked off the field a loser the first time. That wasn’t fun. I’m really dialed in and determined to win this one. Everytime I look at my NFC Championship run, I think about how I wish it was a Super Bowl ring. I’m savoring every moment, but I’m also harnessing every bit of energy and putting it toward winning this time around.”