Alex Smith detractors -- take your medicine

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Alex Smith detractors -- take your medicine

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.
RATTO: A day of redemption for Alex Smith

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.

RELATED: Smith earns complete 2.5 million incentive package

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.

FRAN TARKENTON

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.
DON MEREDITH

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.

LYNN DICKEY

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.

ARCHIE MANNING

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.

JIM ZORN

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.

SONNY JURGENSEN

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.

JOHN BRODIE

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.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

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AP

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.