If (or when, for you pigheaded optimists) the 49ers get their new stadium, there should be a statue of Alex Smith near the front gate. He will be standing in uniform, a football in one hand, and an upraised middle finger adorning the other.
Not for the people who doubted him, necessarily. Given the results and hands he was dealt, he should have been doubted. Everybody doubted him for the perfectly good reasons that (a) he hadnt done anything as a pro and (b) nobody in a position to help him do something ever did.
In fact, the only people who can say now that they didnt doubt him are relatives and liars.
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But this is his moment to consult his long I-told-you-so list (if he had one) and refer to it for a few minutes nightly. It would be his version of a cool aperitif at the end of a long day, a reward for the kind of perseverance that The Guy In Denver can only guess at.
And no, we do not refer to The Guy In Denver with any level of disrespect. In fact, we choose not to use his name only so that we cant be accused of sucking in some hashtag detritus from the far monomaniacal reaches of the Internet.
But The Guy In Denver has endured two years of idiotic shouting, and half of it in his own defense. Smith has swallowed six years of undisguised contempt and pity from all corners of a remorseless world dominated by two things: results, and fantasy results.
Indeed, you would think that there has never been anyone with Smiths record of forbearance in the face of negative reinforcement. When youve had two head coaches who neither liked or bettered you (one of which who drafted you), and a parade of offensive coordinators, two of which even had a remote idea what to do with you, and you still have your gig after six full years, youve cheated the reaper good.
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But there are some comparison points, and other quarterbacks who got to keep their jobs after extended periods of failure for various reasons, and were going to drag you through them now.
Began his career with the expansion Minnesota Vikings and spent six years running for his life from both tacklers and his perpetually enraged coach, Norm Van Brocklin, then got shipped to the Giants for five more years, one of which including a winning record, before returning to Minnesota for the tail end of the Vikings glory era. Now in the Hall of Fame, for you dreamers.
Took the Dallas Cowboys from their third year and got them to the Ice Bowl in his fifth, but was much unbeloved in the Metroplex before that. He came an icon later, and then avoided the light of the retired icon until his death in 2010.
After four years watching Dan Pastorini in Houston, he went to Green Bay and endured some profoundly mediocre Packers teams in the post-Lombardi era, getting hammered for two years, then missing two, then starting for another six, with only a playoff appearance in the strike year of 1982 as his only winning record. A much underappreciated quarterback, especially in Green Bay where his coach for most of those years was Bart Starr.
Devoted his career to getting his brains kicked in in the service of the hideous New Orleans Saints, but he was never considered as unpopular as he was frightfully unlucky. Put it this way no quarterback, living or dead, could ever make those teams win, and everyone knew it.
Another expansion baby, this one in Seattle, but he snuck in two playoff-less 9-7 records in years three and four, so he was pretty much on scholarship until he lost his job to Dave Krieg and Ground Chuck Knox.
Custodian of a series of rancid Washington teams, broken up only by an 8-6 record under Vince Lombardi. Big arm, big liver, very popular in D.C. until George Allen came in and substituted winning and Billy Kilmer.
A local favorite who introduced the concept of Its Always The Quarterbacks Fault to San Francisco, a legacy that says far more about us than him. His win-loss records were mostly average and he did have some weapons around him, but some crackpot coaching (including one year with three starting quarterbacks) and better teams in the Western Conference (Green Bay, then Dallas) kept him out of the postseason until his 13th year.
Of those denizens, we can throw out Manning and Jurgensen, who were popular and received mostly sympathy for the enormity of their tasks. Zorn is exempted because of his position on a brand new team and because he got two winners in early, and Meredith gets a pass because he got to enjoy some good teams in year five.
That leaves Brodie, Dickey and Tarkenton. Tarkenton doesnt quite fit because he entertained people while running around like a beheaded fowl, and because he seemed more likable than Van Brocklin, who probably beheaded the hen in question. Brodie divided the 49er fan base rather than had it rise up against him, though the vitriol of his critics was pretty heady stuff.
So its Dickey then, and even there the comparison is strained a bit. Dickey had a much bigger arm than James Lofton, John Jefferson and Paul Coffman, but he had to because while Smith had Frank Gore, Dickeys running backs were Willard Harrell, Barty Smith, Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis. And the Packer defenses in that era were gruesome, which meant he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
Dickey did lose two years to David Whitehurst and a broken leg, and he is underappreciated in hindsight by the quarterback than preceded him (Starr) and those that have followed (Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers). To say he deserves better is probably wrong, because in football, nobody deserves anything they actually get its either way too much or way too little.
But until this year, Alex Smith wasnt underappreciated. He was appreciated in proper measure to his surroundings and circumstances. He has seized his opportunity to defy the laws of physics as they pertain to his calling, and he has endured far more than anyone can accurately surmise, even The Guy In Denver.
He is not only a game away from the Super Bowl, but a game away from evening his career quarterback record, and he has finally, after six years of universal contempt and dismissal as a bust, gotten to the point where he can expect not to ever buy a drink in this town again.
In short, nice work if you can get it, and so few ever do. If that doesn't merit a statue, well then, we don't know the statue business as well as we think.