Normally the role of back-up quarterback is a comfortable place to stand. Everybody likes you until you take a snap. Alex Smith is envied by none however having lost the starting job in San Francisco while injured. Al Dannity looks at the conflicted position the one-time starter is in as the 49ers prepare for Super Bowl XLVII.
In a way Alex Smith has been like Tim Lincecum in the post-season. The Giants ace, or rather former ace, lost his spot in the rotation late last season. Lincecum carried himself dutifully, never speaking out of turn and accepting of his role as reliever. The Freak knew this was a short-term situation and what matter at that time was winning a championship. Smith likewise has been at pains to not prove a distraction for his team and will, somewhere, likely be offered a role as starter next season. Smith knows that winning the Super Bowl matters above all else for the next two weeks, irrespective of his personal plight. Unlike Lincecum, there is no reliever role for a back-up quarterback. For all the work he can do in aiding Colin Kaepernick, the man who supplanted him in San Francisco, during practice there will be no opportunity for Smith to make a difference in the game.
That surely must sting more for Smith than any starter supplanted by a young up-and-comer in history. Smith’s road to success in the NFL has been rocky. While he was given no shortage of second chances in San Francisco, the former top overall pick also struggled with an offence that changed almost every season. His first year and a half under Jim Harbaugh finally gave the former Utah Ute some stability in the league. While hardly joining the elite, Smith was finally succeeding in the NFL. Even his last two performances before injury pointed to a man on the rise. Going 18 of 19 against the Cardinals and then 7 of 8 against the Rams, getting injured in the latter. Since that game Smith has thrown just one pass, a 6-yard completion to Bruce Miller in the regular-season finale against the Cardinals.
Smith, dutifully, will fulfil his role as back-up in New Orleans. That however will almost certainly be the last time he dresses for San Francisco. After Harbaugh’s summer flirtation with Peyton Manning and the ascension of Kaepernick, Smith has been a saint to carry on with such dignity. Next year he will likely land somewhere else, at a team in need of a veteran quarterback. Yet any move will mean upheaval again for Smith, another new offence and no time to prove himself. A Super Bowl ring, even as a back-up, might soothe the pain but it could also be a tearful reminder of what might have been.