A day of redemption for Alex Smith


A day of redemption for Alex Smith


SAN FRANCISCO -- Alex Smith turned the corner with the ball, ran a few steps and broke into a smile. He was going to score the winning touchdown in the biggest game of his life and assure that he would never buy a drink in San Francisco ever again.

And that was 121 seconds and two touchdowns too early for what he would ultimately feel.

As the West Bay and pockets of the rest of the Bay Area throbbed with the stunned joy of Saturdays 36-32 NFC divisional playoff win over New Orleans, Smith bought himself a perpetual get-out-of-anything card with what even the most cynical person would call the game of his life.

And in doing so, took the rest of the 49er franchise with him.

History, Vernon Davis, who caught the actual game-winning touchdown, would later call the beast that was slain Saturday. Just history. Going through what we all went through. It was a win over history, over no, over cant.

And nobody on the 49er roster has had more of each than Smith.

To be sure, this game defied literally every word that tumbled from every pundits lips this week. Nothing we believed would be true turned out to be true, in any facet of the game, which made the final quarter and its heaps of Did that just happen? plays the perfect metaphor for everything we dont know about the most over-analyzed sport on earth.

So ultimately it should have fallen to Smith, the callused campaigner, to end up the best magician of all. As much as Justin Smith was the dominant defensive player on the field, as much as Donte Whitner clocked people with great force from every angle, as much as Davis had the game of his life . . . this was the game in which Alex Smith stabbed every last demon to death.

This was the one where every fault, every fumble, every pick and every defeat could be negated with Yeah, well I got this one. And the argument ends there.

Smith didnt handle the game or even manage it; the game became unmanageable well before the fourth quarter, and was nearly a full-on piefight by the end. What Smith did, rather, was own the game -- flat own it, as though he was Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning.

He engineered an 80-yard go-ahead touchdown drive and an 85-yard winning touchdown drive in the final four minutes. He did it by finding Davis in single coverage for 37 yards and then later for 47, and he did it with QB 9, the running play that took him 28 yards to the end zone, the last 15 with that smile on his face.

And he did it with Vernon Post, the little slant from the left in which he hit Davis in stride at the goal line and let the tight end plow over Saints safety Roman Harper, who wandered around afterward free from his faculties due to the force of the collision.

Guys were so confident, Smith said afterward, surely fibbing just a bit, that as long as we had time we had a shot.

In fact, that might have been the enduring moment of this game, in the same way that the picture of Dwight Clark leaping into the air over Everson Walls 30 years ago was the enduring moment of the NFC championship game.

I knew I had to throw it hard, Smith said of the touchdown pass with the cold precision of the mechanic whose shirt he seemed to be wearing. I knew it was going to be a bang-bang play, (so) I had to stick it in there.

But while people stumbled over what to call the touchdown -- head coach Jim Harbaugh leaned toward The Throw And Catch while Davis vacillated between The Grab and the slightly more lyrical if derivative Catch 2, the actual moment that will last is the smile on Smiths face when he turned the corner on the touchdown run that made it 29-24 .

It was the moment when Smith saw the block from Kyle Williams that sprung him (I knew I was going to get the first down, and thats really all I was after) and then the field of open space before him that made the first down a meaningless achievement. It was the moment when he must have felt free at last.

And maybe it was the moment that allowed him not to give in to historical gravity when the Saints retaliated with the 66-yard touchdown to Jimmy Graham with 1:37 left. He had felt triumph in a game that finally mattered, and he believed he could feel it again.

He would need others, to be sure, as all quarterbacks must, but as Davis said afterward, This was just a lot of stress over the years, a lot of doubt, a lot of criticism, especially for Alex . . . I want to see him successful. I just want all good things to happen for him.

He means like Saturday, when the last question was answered, and his abuse-filled apprenticeship ended for good. He kicked historys ass, and helped kick-start the history that is just beginning to unfold.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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.