I never thought I would ever see a headline like that before. In particular, not if I were to be the one to write it. If the truth were to be told, I would be compelled to come clean, ‘fess up and take my knocks. It has already been done. What? Why?
In complete disgust, while watching from my box seat at the ‘Stick, I have stripped that #11 Forty Niners maroon replica jersey from my back; cast it with sheer anger to the beer and mustard soiled concrete stairway. I’ve done the “Big guy with no rhythm shuffle” on top of it; I have come to within a dollar conscious brainwave of tossing it over the rail. It sat for a week on my front stoop stuffed with the wicker front door mat that normally occupied that stoop in solitude, it’s “A. Smith” and numeral “11” in gold and black outlined bright white appliqués offering a curious welcome to our home. My wife whom had returned shortly after I that evening, tried to pick up what she assumed I had simply dropped on the way in. Feeling the weight of the doormat inside the disgraced jersey, she let it fall and shook her head. “Not a good day for the Niners, honey?” she surmised. I had my wife blatantly alter the thing to cover one of the numeral ones on the chest, 2 sleeves and back, the letter “A” covered by a “T” to represent the benching of A. Smith in 2010 by Mike Singletary. A. Smith’s replacement: Troy Smith wearing #1 for the 49ers. I thought I was funny…and I was, until I gave it more thought.
In the stands, in ’10, and now 2011 through ’12, I’ve heartily taken the heat at each moment, won a few smiles, but in the long run, how could anyone feel good about what I had done to the jersey? These folks all have had similar thoughts. Simply because I wear my thoughts on my sleeves, vice versa at times the sole reason I was held accountable for my criticisms while the rest, whom had wisely held their tongues, did not need to atone. How does my jeering, jesting, joking mask what we were all sickened by? Did it hide our embarrassment of showing support, explain the expense of attending the games, was it a sort of egotistical camouflage for being faithful? After all everyone knew that eight seasons of just plain horrid football following the DeBartolo gambling fiasco and change of ownership, left the team poised for disarray.
Transitioning to a pair of disinterested neophytes and their goofy son from the best there ever was, did not go well. A steady diet of mediocrity was the way it would be. The release of Steve Mariucci and QB Jeff Garcia led the decline. After Terry Donahue and Dennis Erickson drove a stake through the hearts of the fans and any remaining 49er pride, was the equally inept, though initially lauded new regime of Mike Nolan and Mike Martz. For Smith, his fate not yet sealed, still not a selected to be a 49er, this is where the most damage was done. The take a stab-in-the-dark, “let’s try this one” effect took hold and after selecting the first round draft pick that was reasonably expected yet not widely supported amongst fans nor the local and national media. Rather than Aaron Rodgers a Chico native from Cal and lifelong 49ers fan, Alex Smith from Utah was the choice and victim of the next half dozen seasons of abuse and ownership involved mismanagement from the coaching staff(s).
Smith was tossed into the fray, a kind of revolving door at the quarterback position that along with Alex included Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey Cody Pickett and Arnaz Battle. So, in 2005, his first NFL season, one that could not have been more unceremoniously handled, Alex Smith was sacrificed, eventually injured then forced to toil on the bench while recouping for more than a season and a half.
In an environment where an offensive coordinator du jour was going to become the rule of thumb, and utter disregard for the development and well being of a first round draft choice the choice, for Smith, it spelled disaster. He was never coached as much as thrown to the wolves by the potpourri of supposed leaders, motivators and coaches. Mike Singletary made a splash but upon further review it was nothing more that a season and a half long belly-flop the sting from which hurt players, fans and 49er pride more than Coach could fathom. All he left…a glimmer of “D” that was his legacy. A bit of character and fortitude instilled in but a few was enough to keep the pride alive.
Lost in a fogless daze we were up in UB52. Coasting through another season followed by one more, each one, always preceded with: “Well, there’s always next year”. Intermingled with the classics: “I really only go to the games for the tailgating, the camaraderie”, “It’s the people I go for, if we play well, it’s a bonus. If we win, well, that’s a big time bonus!” or “You should see the food and drink, you can’t believe what we eat!” We had reached our limit; we were full and could no longer swallow that which we were served. Some left the crew and never returned I among them, for those who stayed a feast was being prepared. One for the ages. A new direction, the goofy son, now architect in the making. His uncle sought after for wisdom, direction and life’s blood. A breath of fresh air more than three decades from the past.
Like the true architect from Stanford came a former quarterback from Michigan and the NFL. A family stoked with football tradition and a man who knew quarterbacking and who it took to get it done. With uneasy willingness, we accepted his plan, Jim Harbaugh’s plan and relinquished, for now, our complaining and judging of choices. Smith it would be and uneasy we were, as the season would start after a labor dispute held it up. Under the gun and with everything to prove, the resurgent Smith made his rookie debut all over again. And boy did he ever! I could list the accomplishments off one by one, we all know the story. A little blind faith and a ton of raw support and a hand on the shoulder that said; “I know, son, I know. You just need to put the past and the negativity away and play your game.” In 2012, Alex Smith did just that, despite being labeled and scorned and not being respected, He just carried on, not a care for what was said. Virtually erasing every bad statistic he owned, this man from Utah, a father, set out to accomplish what he said he could after the third or fourth dismal campaign. And proof was delivered in the form of a legendary season that produced the unlikeliest of seasons for the fans of the game. Donning a baseball Giants cap for each presser and of late a mechanic’s blue smock name tagged in a cursive Alex pays homage to the simpler, relaxed and cool Alex, smooth and sure of himself and his plan.
Now the team has a decision as does Alex. Will he return as we all want him to now? Will he cast us aside and not give a look back? Redemption is great and heals all wounds. I like Alex and his demeanor. I hope he will play for the Forty Niners until he plays no more. A true Cinderella story and one we never saw coming. Good for young Alex. He is deserving of our accolades and a firm, heartfelt apology from yours truly. I owe him that. Good luck, Mr. Smith. I hope to see that jersey in the stands on the backs of your fans and on the field standing tall.