If the above report is true, then Alex Smith’s tenure with the 49ers is coming to an end on March 12. Even if the report isn’t true, there is very little chance Smith still remains as a 49ers quarterback going into the 2013 season.
With that said, I think it’s time for me to say farewell to Alex Smith. After eight seasons with the 49ers, it’s time for me to really say what needs to be said to the team’s face of the franchise for so many years.
So if this is goodbye, then let this be my goodbye.
I remember when the 49ers drafted Smith in 2005. I was not on board with it. I thought that Aaron Rodgers was the better pick, but I knew that with Smith, the 49ers still had a chance. The only problem now was trying to give Smith that opportunity to succeed with the league’s worst team.
During those tough years I try to find reasons not to like Smith, but I could just never wrap myself around the idea that Smith was never given a fair shot. The constant change in offensive coordinators couldn’t have been easy. Changing bosses every year can’t be good for confidence or any kind of growth.
Sure, I could have just told him to man up and take it, but there was no environment for him to succeed. There was no way anybody could succeed under the misguidance of Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.
And for those long years, it was frustration and frustration every Sunday. There was no structure for success. Smith had little to work with. I was ready to see him go. There had to be some kind of change. But Smith stuck around. He wanted to finish what he started here.
But I want to focus on my last three seasons covering you as a 49er. From 2009-2011, I got a chance to watch you up close. During practice, after games, in the locker room, I got a chance to talk with you, see how you interacted with teammates, and really got to see you as more than just an athlete.
First of all, you are a very intelligent man and a very well-spoken individual. Your interviews weren’t always the best, but I could live with that. You were the team leader and you were doing everything you can as a leader to do the right things on the field.
It wasn’t until the 2011 season did I really get a sense of appreciation for you. It was hard for me to really be on board with you after all those years of struggling. Some of it was your fault, some of it wasn’t. But when the lockout rolled through the summer, I saw you at San Jose State leading “Camp Alex.” I saw that desire to be great. I saw that hope to be a better quarterback. You wanted to be a leader. You became that leader.
In hindsight, Camp Alex may have been the best thing that you’ve done for the organization. Without it, who knows if the 49ers would have had that success in 2011? It clearly was beneficial and it was all on your leadership during the summer to make it happen.
That season, you erased a lot of demons. A lot of haters had to shut their mouths. The 13-3 record was great, but that epic game against the Saints lifted you as San Francisco’s hero. That throw to Vernon Davis was money. It was legendary.
I remember standing with the crowd at Candlestick Park the following week at the NFC Championship Game. As you were introduced, I had never heard the crowd cheer for you as loudly as they did that rainy afternoon. You were finally accepted. After all those years of suffering, you finally won the crowd over.
It’s not a vindication or anything. But to see you get that glory, that made me smile. I was once part of that crowd that didn’t believe in you. Now I saw that you had what it took to be a successful quarterback for this team. It didn’t end up the way we wanted to that day, but it seemed like the next season was going to be good.
The tough thing about the NFL is the way free agency shifts everything. You ended up back with the 49ers in what seemed to be both sides settling for each other. But even through all that, you were winning games and putting up record numbers. I wish the injury didn’t happen. I wish you had slid instead. (I was harsh on you for that, only because I wanted more out of you.) But the direction of the team changed and you didn’t pout about it. Instead, you gave Colin Kaepernick everything you knew to make him better. We saw the fruits of your teaching this past season.
And the 49ers made the Super Bowl because of that.
Looking back, it’s an odd journey for me as a fan and as a writer covering the team. I admit that I couldn’t love you instantly. I didn’t want you here. But over the years, I got to know you and see you differently. After seeing the leadership skills you had, I started to believe and for the first time in 2011, I saw that potential in you.
I’m sorry for not believing in you earlier, but it wasn’t easy. In fact, I bet you’d feel the same way with all the struggles.
But now with this potential trade coming down, I can’t look back at all the struggles. All I see was the good you’ve done recently. Camp Alex rebuilt this team. The entire 2011 season put this team on the right track. Your game against the Saints restored the fan base. Your attitude after your injury proved that you did care about the team.
It’s too bad you never got the chance to start and lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. It’s too bad that your tenure with the team has to end like this. But you’re off to a better opportunity and I will be cheering for you, where ever that may be. You’ve put the 49ers in a place better than what it was when you first arrived. Some would have hoped it would be sooner. But after what you’ve been through and where the team is now, I think I can let that slide.
You’ve given the 49ers new hope now. Despite not making any on-field impact in the last half of the season, you are part of this foundation that looks to be poised to return next season and win it.
I can’t say that you were an all-time great 49er. I can’t say that you should get your jersey retired by the team. But when the 49ers make it back to the playoffs next year and win (hopefully) that Lombardi Trophy, I’ll look back at that summer in 2011 and say that’s where it all started.
It wasn’t the initial plan the 49ers had in mind for you in 2005, but you took what you were given and gave the 49ers new life again. In a sense, you accomplished what you were asked to do. The journey wasn’t perfect, but you were the perfect man to handle all the hardships and put the 49ers back where they belong.
Thank you, Alex. Where ever you end up, I know you’ll fit in well. You’re a winner to me and you’ll continue to be that on and off the field.
Take care of yourself. You have earned one respected fan in me and I will continue to cheer you on.