This won't be any ordinary week for former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, try as he might to make it that way. He's preparing to play the organization that he says changed his life, and that he never wanted to leave.
Torrey Smith was walking out to practice Wednesday with his San Francisco 49ers teammates when something on a nearby television caught his eye.
With the 49ers and Ravens preparing to play Sunday at Levi's Stadium, NFL Network was replaying Super Bowl XLVII, the last time the two teams met in a game that mattered. Veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley must have seen the television, too, and his memories of that game — a 34-31 Ravens victory to end the 2012 season — are obviously not as pleasant as Smith's.
"Joe Staley, we were in the huddle, and he looks at me and was like, 'You didn't deserve that,'" Smith said. "We kind of talk trash about it every once in a while, but it's definitely a sensitive subject. I'm still glad that I was on the winning side of that."
The moment was the strongest reminder for Smith that this won't be any ordinary week, try as he might to make it that way. He's preparing to play the organization that he says changed his life, and that he never wanted to leave.
In a conference call with Baltimore-area reporters Wednesday, Smith insisted he's not consumed with facing his former teammates and coaches, and he doesn't expect things to get any more emotional than usual this week. But that wasn't the case seven months ago when the wide receiver acknowledged that he broke down upon learning he wouldn't be re-signing with the Ravens when he hit free agency.
Smith, who was going to get a salary on the open market that far exceeded what the Ravens had and were willing to offer, conceded that he didn't get the closure he sought until he had an emotional phone call with general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"I cried like a baby, man," Smith said. "I know when I called everyone and basically said, 'Thank you,' to them, it was tough. But I understand it's a business. If you understand it's a business, you don't let your emotions be involved. But it's tough when that organization, the Ravens organization changed my life and it changed my family's life. I'll always be thankful for what they've done for me. To be honest, I still can't pay them back to this day."
Smith signed a five-year, $40 million deal that included $22 million in guaranteed money with the 49ers in March, reuniting with former Ravens teammate and wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Off the field, the 26-year-old Virginia native and former Maryland standout said moving to the West Coast has taken him out of his comfort zone, helped him grow as a person and allowed him to focus on his job and his family "without as many distractions."
On the field, Smith and the 49ers (1-4) have struggled. San Francisco's offense is ranked 29th in the NFL and Smith has lamented not being able to make a bigger difference. With just 11 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown in five games, Smith is on pace for the worst season of his five-year career. San Francisco coach Jim Tomsula said Wednesday that the team is trying to "utilize" Smith more.
In one two-game stretch, Smith went nearly seven quarters without a reception, and he grew so frustrated after he and quarterback Colin Kaepernick couldn't connect on a play against the Green Bay Packers, that Smith yanked his helmet off and stomped to the bench. He later apologized for displaying bad body language.
"When we aren't playing the way that you want to play, it's tough," Smith said. "I don't really mind if I don't get the ball if we're moving the ball and we're scoring points. But when we're stalling, I feel like I can help, I can change that."
Smith caught 213 passes for 3,591 yards and 30 touchdowns over four seasons with the Ravens. He holds the team record in yards per reception (16.9), is second in franchise history in touchdown receptions and third in receiving yards.
The Ravens, who have had several injuries at the wide receiver position, have missed Smith's speed and big-play ability. Rookie first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman was supposed to replace Smith's speed on the outside, but he hasn't played a game yet because of a knee injury.
"I think it can definitely put pressure on teams, and it definitely makes it a little bit different out there and gives teams different things to think about in how they want to cover him," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Especially last year when you have a guy like Steve [Smith Sr.] that can really beat man-to-man coverage, and … Torrey who can beat man-to-man coverage with his sheer speed, it makes it tough for defenses."
Kamar Aiken, who called Smith a great friend and teammate, said Smith's absence has been more glaring because of the team's difficult start.
"I think it's easy for people to say that now because we're 1-4, but if we're 4-1, they wouldn't remember any of those guys that left last year," Aiken said. "It's easy for somebody to say that in our circumstance. He definitely was a big impact, but we've got other guys in there that impact us just as well. That's just the league."
Smith maintains that he hasn't thought about how things could have been different if the Ravens had re-signed him.
"When I left, I knew I was gone. I was excited for Kamar, I was excited for Marlon [Brown], because I was in their way, and they deserve to have their shot to be successful and prove to everyone what they can do," said Smith, who acknowledged that he's surprised by the Ravens' 1-4 start. "Those are my brothers."
On Sunday, Smith will likely find himself matched up against Jimmy Smith, another former teammate who says the 49er is like a brother to him. The two were on the same pre-draft visit with the Ravens and then were part of the same draft class. They had countless one-on-one battles in practices over four seasons.
On Sunday, though, things will feel a little bit different for both, whether they admit it or not.