Alex Smith shows he's more than a manager


Alex Smith shows he's more than a manager

This will always be remembered as Alex Smiths breakout game, the one where he finally brought the football world to its knees, the one where he finally changed the term game manager into a profanity.Nonsense. He is still a game manager, and game manager is not an insult at all. In fact, he managed it better than ever, which is why the San Francisco 49ers are closing in on the second bye in the NFC playoffs.The 49ers 27-20 win over the New York Giants in an electrifying game at La Candeliere advanced them to 8-1, and reduced the number of ways this could go horribly wrong by one weekend.But this was Smiths day more than anyone elses more than Carlos Rogers, or Justin Smiths, or Vernon Davis, or Jim Harbaughs for one very important reason.

Smith didnt have any tall buildings to shade him.Frank Gore was bottled up early, and then injured his knee. The defense bent, and came within the J. Smith pass-block of Eli Mannings last throw with 34 seconds left of blowing a two-score lead with 12 minutes left. This game needed lots of moments, but it also needed a central character.Alexander David Smith was it. On the big stage. With the nation watching and trying to stifle laughter from his painful resume of years past. And he slapped sense into everyone.If there was a moment that crystallized Smiths emergence from national scorn to national discovery, though, it wasnt even a pass. It was two runs, five plays apart in the second quarter, when he was flushed from the safety of the pocket, and attacked what was available to him with a confidence he never exuded quite so forcefully.The first came on a third-and-17 from the Giant 33 with two minutes left in the half. Smith had just been sacked by Linval Joseph, a sure sign that bad times were coming with the next play or so. Only Smith broke from the pocket on the next play and ran with a jut-jawed purpose for 12 yards to set up David Akers go-ahead field goal.His next initiative-seizing moment came after Eli Mannings first interception with 1:26 left in the half when, again muscled from the pocket, he took off for a 14-yard scramble and slide to the Giant 24. And even though that drive died when Ted Ginn bobbled a pass into the hands of Giant cornerback Corey Webster, Smith established the following things:1. That this was his game to win.
2. That he was ready to seize it.
3. That he would not let go once he had.By that time, Gore had already been driven from the game, and Smith understood that managing this game meant controlling it himself.So he did, and with the country watching. He tried to front it all off by saying it didnt matter to him how he was described Harbaugh had already seeded the ground by using game manager as the insult it really isnt but he did describe with understated glee the gathering of the national media, including Foxs No. 1 broadcast crew (which frankly, had really come more for the Giants and Manning than for the 49ers and him).Thats fun, he said. Its nice to have the national stage. But mostly it feels good to be 8-1.No, it feels good to be 8-1 with the national stage, and to find out that Alex Smith is now an NFL brand name a slow-acting but surprisingly effective product that can do everything from clean your grout to shampoo your rugs to change the oil in your crankcase.He is about to get the full NFL myth-makeover, because nobody in decades has done what he has done toil in abject humiliation for almost twice the length of the average NFL career and then suddenly come up aces and kings.And while hell still have the earnest inflections and sincere eyes and aw-shucks demeanor, a little bit of the I-told-you-so will leak out here and there. He has a lot of I-told-you-sos saved up, and now that his allegedly small hands have a firm grip on the second best team in football, he will let them slip out here and there. He has this coming to him, and whatever else between now and late January, he will remember this as the day that he managed not only a game, but his way into the national discussion as a quarterback other teams would like very much to have.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

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.