Antonio Smith's Super Bowl journey included pit stop with Raiders

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Antonio Smith had been here before.

In Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals, Smith and his teammates were a disputed Santonio Holmes catch away from claiming the Lombardi Trophy from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So yeah, Smith thought he’d be back, playing for titles, rings and glory more often than not. Seven years and three teams later, the defensive end was all smiles in the Denver Broncos' locker room Sunday night after their defense fueled a 24-10 defeat of the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

Smith went to the postseason with the Houston Texans, but the 2014 season spent with the Oakland Raiders offered little hope. Not when the Raiders got off to an 0-10 start en route to a 3-13 season.

“I was told I’d get back [to the Super Bowl],” Smith said. “But it never happened in Houston and then we were having that bad season last year in Oakland and I was like, ‘Man, is this ever going to happen?’”

It took the Raiders cutting him last March, as he was set to count for $4 million against the salary cap, and the Broncos scooping him up for it to come to fruition.

With the Broncos, Smith appeared in all 16 games (no starts) and equaled a career low with 2.5 sacks. In the postseason, he had a sack of the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger in the divisional round.

Against the Panthers, Smith was credited with a quarterback hit of league MVP Cam Newton, and the Broncos defense joined the ranks of the 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for all-time great defensive performances in the Super Bowl.

Smith, who was playing with a heavy heart after his father died four days earlier, said the Broncos defense is the best of all time.

“Definitely,” he said. “The stats say it. The Super Bowl says it. The only people who disagree are probably the ’85 Bears.

“The proof is in the pudding.”

And for Smith, it included a stop in Oakland.