Smith's maturity, class show during Super Bowl setback

Feb 3 2013 - 12:00am

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There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, Alex Smith got a raw deal.

The former University of Utah quarterback, now a backup on a San Francisco 49ers team that will play the Baltimore Ravens today in Super Bowl XLVII, deserves far better than what he's received.

What happened to Smith earlier this season is uncanny.

It's unfortunate.

It's uncomfortable.

It's uncool.

But here's the thing, and there's really no getting around it: even though he's one of the most genuine people who'd ever what to meet, what happened to Smith wasn't unfair.

And yet in the wake of it, the dignified way in which he has handled himself is almost unreal.

For those who don't know, Smith, 28, is a former No. 1 overall draft pick. He had a couple of great seasons at Utah -- he went 21-1 as a starter -- and after graduating two years early with a degree in economics, he decided to give the NFL a shot.

Because they were the worst team in the NFL in 2004, the 49ers had the first pick in the 2005 draft. With it, they selected Smith, who'd just led coach Urban Meyer's Utes to a BCS-busting 12-0 season, culminating with a 35-7 beatdown of Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.

Smith went from playing on one of college football's best teams in 2004 to one of the NFL's worst team in 2005.

Obviously, they improved over the years. But on the way from going 2-14 in 2004 to 13-3 in 2011 and 11-4 this season, Smith and the Niners bounced along a bumpy road. After all, nothing says "stability" like three different head coaches and six different offensive coordinators in six seasons.

Finally, in an odd, gut-wrenching sort of plot twist, Jim Harbaugh, the head coach who finally provided Smith with the structure and stability he craved, yanked the rug out from under him.

Smith suffered a concussion while playing against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 11. A few days later, in keeping with NFL's protocols, he informed team doctors he was still experiencing symptoms.

Harbaugh went with backup Colin Kaepernick for the next game and never looked back.

"Tough times, for sure," Smith said last week. "Tough to accept. Tough to watch. But we're in the Super Bowl and this has been an amazing experience."

Initially, I think Smith's fans -- and there are plenty here in Utah, where his parents met while attending Weber State -- were bothered by the fact he lost his job essentially because he self-reported concussion symptoms.

I know I was.

Of course having seen the dynamic "it" that Kaepernick brings to the field, I can't say Harbaugh was wrong to make the switch. However, I still don't agree with the way the former NFL quarterback handled the move, especially considering he would never have put up with someone doing that to him during his playing days.

I'll watch the Super Bowl today, anxious to follow its many storylines, not the least of which is how Kaepernick will play on sports' biggest stage.

He's impressive, no doubt about it.

But while I'm watching, I'll also take notice of Smith, standing there on the sidelines (surely the TV cameras will find him a few dozen times) and I'll think about the class -- yes, class -- he showed in handling such an awkward situation.

He faced hordes of Super Bowl media last week and never made a wrong step, answering honestly but tactfully. He was forthright, but fair; candid, but considerate.

"I'm still employed," he said, acknowledging he still gets paid a mind-boggling sum of money to play what at its core is still just a game.

There are many who live in the real world who aren't nearly as fortunate, who don't have nearly the same luxuries. Under the glare of the media spotlight last week, Smith didn't forget that fact.

Considering just how rough and uneven his career with the 49ers has been, it's remarkable how smoothly he has handled each unnerving moment.

In that, he has taught us all a valuable lesson.

In sports it's often said, "The great ones make it look easy, like anyone can do it." Well, if that's the case, Alex Smith is one of the all-time greats, at least when it comes to handling what clearly was a raw deal.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247

 

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