Wednesday, November 28, 2012


In light of Jim Harbaugh's decision, I'm re-posting this blog with some additional thoughts. I have never advocated for quitting anything.  I don't believe in it.  But I also now believe that Alex Smith has been mistreated in a way that has never been equaled for a QB.  This decision is a spit in the face, a veritable Ndamukong-Suh-stomp on the neck and done by his head coach, himself a former starting NFL QB.  This San Francisco team that was possibly on their way to a Super Bowl has replaced their starting QB (6-2- and maybe 1) because he got hurt. Not because he hurt the team. And not because he wasn't playing at a superior level - but because they perceive their backup is better after two and a half starts. Only five other QBs have completed 70 percent of their passes on a season (though it's hard to count Jamie Martin as it was in eight games total). One of those players was ironically Joe Montana in 13 games in 1989. Another ironically was Steve Young. Would you bench either of those guys? No, Smith isn't at that level yet and may never be, but in nine games this year he's been superior. There is no other QB in the league doing what Smith was doing in terms of accuracy.  Not even Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.  To put in nerdy phraseology, by choosing Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh has opted for the Dark Side.  I don't blame CK for this at all. This is on Harbaugh. Sleep well at night Jim. As a former QB you should know better. And I'll be giggling when this turns south because of all the "what ifs" that will be asked should CK fail.

When I was eight years old, I received my first subscription to SPORT magazine. It was the direct competitor to Sports Illustrated, but eventually folded in 2000. I never read a single article. I was so loyal to my sports teams, that unless a Pirates or Steelers player found the cover, I would almost shove the magazine aside as if whatever was inside didn’t involve me. Later on when I was older, I would go back and find some of those magazines, revisiting some of the classic players that I had grown up with but had had little appreciation for: Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Dave Concepcion, Jack Youngblood, Earl Campbell and Steve Largent. I learned you can’t ignore history, because even though today’s players are tomorrow’s legends, a lot of them are where they are because of those that came before.  And those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.
49ers fans aren't nearly as forgiving as Alex Smith

In the mind of San Francisco fans, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has plenty of good reasons to start second year QB Colin Kaepernick. In fact, by its sheer nature alone, the choice of playing the younger and mercurial QB over the rather tedious and methodical Alex Smith isn’t a bad decision. After all, Kaepernick’s got a lively arm. He’s mobile, and can extend plays with his feet to make things happen. He’s clearly more exciting to watch, and gives defensive coordinators more to think about. Fans will argue this is the only reasoning... as Kaepernick gives San Francisco the best chance to win.  So yes, maybe you can say Harbaugh’s brain is in the right place.  Except....

Wake up San Francisco fans -- you were winning.  And you weren't struggling to win either.

So where Harbaugh may have a lot of brains (though I question that now), he clearly has lost his heart. Harbaugh’s sudden win-over-everything, satisfy-me-now attitude is exactly why the 49ers will eventually sink in their own muck. His own muck. The muck that may get them a Super Bowl win but at the expense of the relationship of the guy who got them there. Yes, Harbaugh developed a system that exploited Alex Smith for whatever his talents could give them. However, what they got was a 13-3 record last year, and they were just a baby’s breath away from the Super Bowl berth. This year, Smith's performance got them a 6-2-1 record. They command the NFC West now, and though their arrival to prominence might coincide with developing a top-notch defense, make no mistake about it. Smith led this football team, completing over 61 percent of his passes in 2011, and raised his bar even higher to 70 percent for 2012.

And this is when Harbaugh has decided to take Smith’s chance to fulfill his career promise away from him.   In the marathon that has been Smith’s career and life’s ambition to be a starting QB and get to a Super Bowl, Harbaugh has moved the finish line maybe even out of reach.


At this moment?

After all Alex Smith has gone through?

This is how Jim Harbaugh rewards Alex Smith for making Harbaugh one of the youngest successful coaches in the NFL. He chooses what looks prettier, what appears better, and by doing so impugns his own character as a man, showing that in Harbaugh's eyes, you take the style over substance; the blonde with the altered chest rather than the quiet brunette with boundaries of privacy.    

The NFL is a quarterback driven league right now, and pundit after pundit was willing and even excited to bash the former Utah Ute as a bust of catastrophic proportions when the 49ers were the embarrassment of their division. Even though Smith had multiple coordinators in his first six years, endured season-ending injuries in 2008 and 2010, and the 49ers organization itself underwent coaching and scheme changes, Smith sewed his oats as the rodeo clown for this team, taking beating after beating, on the field and in the media. Then, after delivering a 13-3 season last year, he endured the embarrassment of his ownership and coach courting Peyton Manning in the off-season, forcing him to seek out other organizations willing to take a chance on a QB that his own organization wasn’t willing to re-sign after his best season. He was being labeled as having a fluky season at best. When the Manning deal soured, he returned to San Francisco, tail between his legs, and proved that 2011 was no fluke. He has delivered his best season as a pro.

Smith has endured even after all of this, making him a true winner.  I can't think of one quarterback who has been through as much adversity with one organization and yet had finally risen to the top of his game.  He's tried, true and tested, and come playoff time, will be the only leader you can be sure would be capable of handling the crucial scenarios of the playoffs.  Lest we forget last year he went toe-to-toe with Drew Brees in a shootout and emerged victorious?

The thanks he gets -- another concussion taken for the team and some hope by that team that the brain knock he took caused some sort of quarterback amnesia – as if Smith or for that matter anyone could erase the repeated injustices this team has continually thrust his way. He’s contracted through the 2014 season, but payments associated with making the team are part of the heavily incentive-ridden contract.

And should Kaepernick, in his attempts to recreate John Elway or Brett Favre while evading a persistent pass-rusher, sustain an injury, it will be Smith called onto the field to rescue this 49ers team yet again; the same team that has turned their respective backs against him over and over. Should he fail, the fans will once again relegate him to goat status. Should he succeed, he’ll find himself possibly the only quarterback to come off winning a Super Bowl to not be invited back to his own team since Trent Dilfer.

It's very simple. Alex Smith should quit. No employee, contract or not, would take this kind of repeated bashing. He has been shown the door indirectly and directly by an organization that he has led to a 19-5-1 record the last two seasons, something most organizations would die for. As far as the 49ers are concerned, this latest move speaks volumes as to how much they credit Alex Smith for any of it.

Whether the San Francisco 49ers organization or fans are aware, the message being sent to the players is louder and clearer than any message sent to them in a concrete email. It says you don’t matter. No matter how well you play, no matter your contribution, we will forget you as quickly as we’ll forget our last loss. Tight End Vernon Davis bit his tongue in front of the camera Sunday, saying they were ‘fine’ with Kaepernick starting, and that they’ll abide by their coach’s decision. After all, they are players. They have to.

Colin Kaepernick might be slightly more evasive (Smith has 29 attempts for 134 yards this year - a 4.6 average).  He may have a better arm. He may even someday be a legend. And Jim Harbaugh may win the Super Bowl. But the victory now will be shallow. It will be as hollow as Harbaugh’s caved out chest, eviscerated by his and his organization’s thirst for victory. Should the Lamar Hunt trophy be hoisted in San Francisco this year, expect it to be the last for some time. Everyone in that locker room now knows where Harbaugh’s loyalties lie. They know it’s not with them. It lies with the trophy, and his moment in the sun. 

He’s forgotten way too quickly who helped get him there. Like many others before him, he’s broken the rungs of his own ladder. When the Ravens let Dilfer go, they did so because he so obviously wasn’t a tremendous play-maker. This was true. But he was a leader, and part of a team that was special. If he wasn't, they simply would have replaced him with Elvis Grbac or Randall Cunningham and won.  Instead they went 10-6 the next season and faltered.  The Ravens didn't return to the Super Bowl and haven’t since.  The San Diego Chargers let Drew Brees go.  He's been to and won a Super Bowl since.  The Chargers have been a first round exit in the playoffs if they made it.  

Things might look shiny and bright for San Francisco on the horizon, but there’s a stormy sea ahead. There’s an ocean fraught with the history of those whose memories are short, and loyalties are hollow. And unfortunately, those that don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.