When the 49ers drafted Alex Smith
with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, I made a bet with anyone who would take my money: Aaron Rodgers
would go on to have a better pro career than either Smith or Matt Leinar
t. Ostensibly the jury is still out -- but I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that at least a buck and a quarter and a six-pack are coming my way.
That being said, during The Half That Saved Alex Smith's Career
on Sunday, the announcer mentioned something that almost didn't register: Smith is only 25 years old. The last four 49ers seasons have, in their own way, served as an example for Albert Einstein's layman's definition of relativity: "Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, it seems
like a minute. Sit on a red-hot stove for a minute, it seems like an
hour. That's relativity.
" So, yes, watching the Niners of late has been a lot like sitting on a red-hot stove -- and paying $8.75 a pop for beer to boot.
And yet, despite the distortions of the space-time continuum induced by awesomely bad football, Smith is still in the prime of his athletic career. Sure, he played splendidly bad football -- but with extenuating circumstances. His rookie season was with a magnificently crappy squad, and following his decent sophomore season he seriously injured his throwing shoulder, requiring a pair of surgeries (then-coach Mike Nolan seemed to think Smith's arm was A-Okay -- indicating that, just because he dressed like a doctor on the sidelines, Nolan felt he was somehow capable of diagnosing medical conditions). Finally, offensive coordinators stuck around in San Francisco for about as long as dissident Lebanese politicians.
And yet, has any promising quarterback played as badly as Smith has and gone on to greatness with his original team?
If so, we can't think of the man (and readers are urged to make their voices heard). When it comes to being labeled an out-and-out bust and going on to a storied career, the first QB one thinks of is usually Stanford alum Jim Plunkett. Fair enough -- Plunkett had many vile years before leading the Oakland and L.A. Raiders to glory. But his (crap) salad days came with the Patriots and 49ers.
Glancing up and down several lists of top all-time QBs, it's obvious that many didn't hit the ground running. Phil Simms had four extremely mediocre seasons before finding his stride, Peyton Manning tossed an eye-opening 27 interceptions as a rookie, young Brett Favre tossed two picks in five career passes for Atlanta, and Steve Young wallowed through the USFL and abysmal Tampa teams before eventually supplanting Joe Montana.
And yet, I couldn't find one elite quarterback who utterly failed with the team that made him a top draft pick and then went on to success with that team.
So if Smith beats the odds -- well, they'll be long odds indeed. Somewhere in the neighborhood of the Niners' chances in Indianapolis this weekend.