Alex Smith -- a prisoner of his draft position
Share This Post

Editor's note: Training camp is underway. For all the latest news from Santa Clara, check out our 49ers training camp page.

In the world in which we all wish to live, Alex Smith would have walked up to the phone in Kansas City with a snootful of Graveyard Night Watchman’s Select and gone on a question-free rant about all things 49ers:

“Jim Harbaugh is Satan’s Handmaiden, and I can prove it.”

“Jed York Eats Live Kittens.”

“I will pay Tamba Hali six figures if he catches, sacks, beats and then consumes Colin Kaepernick.”

[RATTO: Is clock running toward moment when Kap no longer trusted?]

We don’t live that well, though. Whatever Smith’s actual feelings about his seven years of mostly scheduled beatings, he held them in during his conference call before Friday’s titillating but still unnecessary Chiefs-49ers exhibition game in Reidville Heights.

As he should. It was his last time to actually have to address the issue of the 49er years until the Chiefs become good enough and the 49ers bad enough for him to truly let fly. And of course, he didn’t. The overused word “bittersweet” can be employed this one last time.

Smith did get the richest possible education as a 49er – bad management, good management; bad teammates, good teammates; fan hatred, fan tolerance (he never really was truly loved here, let’s be frank), unwavering support and a good swift kick to the curb. And all of it without a net.

So yes, he learned plenty here, and the only way it could have better, worse and more awkward than the way it actually played out is if Harbaugh had devised one different play in the last series of the Super Bowl and Smith would ride in an open-top Caddy at the parade.

[RELATED -- Harbaugh: Alex Smith a friend, but no longer a 'trusted agent']

But what exactly did San Francisco learn from Smith? That is the question that never really gets addressed in the Smith saga, because all fans and media are alike in their misguided notions of psychology. We all ended up inventing the Smith that fit our own preconceptions, and those who didn’t have the good grace to admit the several times that they got it wrong bent events and their meanings to fit the readymade template.

There were many things that Smith was not – Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, Aaron Rodgers, Elvis Grbac, Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan. There were many things he could not do – make Mike Nolan a good general manager, or Mike Singletary a good head coach, or Arnaz Battle an elite receiver. And there was one thing he did not do – exceed his capabilities.

But now that he is in the rearview mirror and has been thoroughly assessed, we can say that we should have learned this much about ourselves from Smith’s years:

1. As much as we want the quarterback to defy the laws of roster physics with acts of individual brilliance, we now know that a bad operation makes quarterbacks look worse than they actually are. They are more than 1/11th of an offense, but they are not 9/11ths of one, either. If you have no good receivers, you will take a beating. If your offensive line is crud, you will be treated like crud. If you are handed a game plan from the year 1982, you will feel at day’s end like you are 1982 years old.

1A. The converse to this is equally true. Good players, good coaching and good management tend to reveal the best a player can be.

2. Yelling about the quarterback after every game makes our friends back away from us slowly and carefully and in some cases forever.

3. Quarterbacks who do not outwardly complain about their lot in life are not passionless or disinterested. What players say very often has little to do what they think, mean or feel. Alex Smith was not passionless or disinterested. He was careful, and he was most careful not to seem like a lousy teammate or a bus-thrower-under. We needed to appreciate that more.

4. We forget that players are prisoners of their draft position. Smith did not draft himself any more than Rodgers did, and Smith’s losses were indisputably Rodgers’ gains. In other words, if you wish to call Smith a bust, you choose to be wrong. Nolan’s act of selecting him was the bust.

5. We have to learn that football players earn every dime, because they get unpaid so quickly. We also have to learn that a team’s responsibilities to a player only start with the check. Saying Smith got paid is insufficient, small-minded, and, well, stupid.

6 (and most important of all). We appreciate good servants of our favorite teams too late and too lightly. A statue-happy franchise like this (and we say that in anticipation of all the bronzed bric-a-brac that will line the brand new 501 Skinny Lite 8 Pants Stadium) would do well to slap one up of Smith with the legend, “HE SERVED THE FRANCHISE BETTER THAN THE FRANCHISE SERVED HIM. AND WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT HIM.”

Seems perfectly fair.