Yes, I criticized Alex Smith for costing himself the starting job due to the concussion. But it was what happened afterward that made me appreciate his attitude towards the whole thing.
Instead of being bitter about not being the star quarterback of the team heading to the Super Bowl, Smith told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports that he’s happy for all that’s happened.
“I’m so happy, man,” Alex Smith said afterward as he dressed alone at his locker. “This is so surreal. It’s such a crazy time, such a crazy moment. Obviously, it’s been a unique year, and it would be great to be in there. But I couldn’t be happier. This is a great group of guys, and they’re all Super Bowl bound. I’m just so happy for all of them.”
Smith seems happier for the team than himself. But he has to realize that the celebration is something he deserves too. Granted that the attention won’t be on him mostly, Smith has to realize that he’s been part of this foundation and this success wouldn’t have happened without him.
It all began under Smith’s guidance during Camp Alex. Then Smith re-established the winning tradition last year by going 13-3 and winning that epic battle against the Saints. Smith instilled confidence in the team and provided the team with a belief that they can win. His efforts helped bring in key free agents and an attitude that made the 49ers favorites. He laid the groundwork for this season.
His successes prior to the concussion were amazing. They weren’t flashy, but completing 70 percent of passes is no easy feat. The team was in first place and the 49ers were on their way to the playoffs.
But after losing his starting job, he kept it professional and continued to mentor his replacement, knowing that the team needed that veteran presence to keep the train rolling. He put the team first.
Les Carpenter recounts Smith’s value to the team’s Super Bowl run.
But they should also shake the hand of the man next to him, the one with the cross tattooed on his back. Everyone’s ignored Alex Smith ever since Kaepernick went and took his job, yet no one might have done more to get the kid prepared than Smith. Chryst knows. He sees it in the meetings – those tiny cloistered sessions where it’s just Chryst, Smith, Kaepernick and maybe two other quarterbacks. He’s watched Smith push Kaepernick to be better. They study plays together, they identify defenses together. When Kaepernick is unsure of something, Smith is instantly there.
“I think Alex is wired that way too,” Chryst said.
Then he paused.
“No one wanted to win this game more than Alex,” Chryst said. “It’s who Alex is.”
“It’s a unique gift that Alex has given to Colin,” he said.
And they all rode it to the Super Bowl.
One of the most forgotten things when these stories of a young quarterback come out are the veteran backups that keep them in check. Tom Brady needed the experience of Drew Bledsoe to guide him early in his career. Colin Kaepernick needed Alex Smith too.
It’s not to say that Smith taught everything that Kaepernick needed to know to be successful. But the way Smith handled it and continued to teach the young pupil, Smith should get some credit for keeping this 49ers ride alive despite losing his starting job.
He may still wish that the 49ers success came to him in a more conventional way, but he should relish this moment. The 49ers needed Smith to the very end and they still do. It’s not a glamorous storybook ending, but that’s the path that Smith is on now. The 49ers couldn’t have done it without him.