Benching Alex Smith Is the Ultimate Alex Smith Decision
As linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar closed in on Smith three yards past the line of scrimmage, Smith executed one of his trademark blooper-reel slides, somehow managing to launch his skull/brain area directly into the path of the 226-pound Ram in his effort to protect himself.
If you were sitting too close to your TV speakers, the crack of that collision rang in your ears.
However, it turns out the Dunbar dive was not the play that gave Smith a concussion. The play that actually caused the injury was a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak a few minutes later.
A quarterback sneak. You know, the play where all a quarterback has to do is follow his linemen and fall forward with half of his height. But of course, to be injured on such a play is even more textbook Alex Smith.
In the seven seasons that I've watch Smith keep his head above water with the Niners, I've come to accept that the man's football career is destined to play out as life does for a guy like me.
Just as Smith didn't get injured during one of his Zoidberg stumbles into the secondary, a dude like me is never going to get shot stopping a bank robbery. And just as Smith got his most significant career injury carrying out the most pedestrian of quarterback tasks, one day I'll probably end up throwing my back out lifting a box of plates for my wife or something.
That's just the way it goes for guys like me. We dream big, but we crash small. We think in legends, but we live in text messages. And this is why I've never been able to root for Alex Smith -- he reminds me too much of myself.
To me, the best parts about pro sports are pretty much the best parts about comic books -- the superhuman abilities, the good-versus-evil storylines, the endless prop debates on hypothetical match-ups. They way I debate with my friends about the current Kaepernick/Smith controversy employs essentially the same structure I used when debating, say, the virtues of the four different Supermans that popped up after Doomsday killed the original in 1992.
The Man of Steel, The Man of Tomorrow (Cyborg Superman), The Metropolis Kid (a.k.a. Superboy), the Last Son of Krypton. Still partial to the Man of Steel myself, but I imagine that has more to do with my being a huge Shaq fan in 1992 than any particular virtues of the all-metal Superman. (Metaphorically speaking, dead Superman = Steve Young.)
Like most, I'm a sports fan for the glimpses of greatness and the escapism those glimpses provide. Which is why Smith has never been a quarterback I've wanted to watch play. In his tenure with the team, he's provided Niners fans with about as much escapism as a drug intervention.
Smith's reputation for making smart decisions on the field is no doubt accurate. He makes smarter decisions than almost any other NFL quarterback. On a strictly rational, utilitarian rubric, Smith is Canton-bound. However, the problem is that Smith only makes smart decisions. And while smart decisions are rarely bad decisions, they're rarely great decisions either. Even at their best, smart decisions are damned uninteresting.
I've never been at a party and seen people crowd around the guy telling the story of how much money he made putting all of his money in savings bonds. But Smith is that savings bond guy, quarterbacking a team in a sports league designed for entertainment.
Which is why he provides no escapism. Guys like me have to make smart decisions in everyday life just to get by. I drive defensively, I go to sleep at 10 p.m., I don't spend my paycheck on scratchers no matter how tempting their bright colors and shiny foil might be. These are "smart" decisions, and I make them so I don't ruin my life. It's what I have to do as a 29-year-old man with a family. So, when I block out four hours on a Sunday to watch a Niners game, I do so hoping to see players representing my city do things I can't do. I watch football to see top-grade athletes make interesting decisions that I don't have the freedom to make in my daily life.