He’s the feel-good story of the NFL this season — the former first-round draft pick derided by most as a below-average quarterback who led his franchise to heights it hasn’t experienced since a Hall-of-Famer was playing the position.
You just haven’t heard all that much about him.
No, really. You haven’t. Because I’m talking about Alex Smith.
The San Francisco 49ers are on the brink of their first Super Bowl appearance in 17 years thanks in large part to the underappreciated play of Smith, who long ago looked liked he’d be boarding the Ryan Leaf/Akili Smith/Cade McNown Bus of Top 10 QB picks who never did a damn thing in the NFL. That he’s still a starter seven years after being drafted is somewhat of a miracle in itself.
Smith is far from the sole reason for San Francisco’s success. Most of the credit is due to the Niners’ defense, excellent play in all areas of special teams, running back Frank Gore and the new attitude instilled in the team by coach Jim Harbaugh.
I’m just saying that Smith should be considered just as important a cog in his team’s success as a certain No. 15 in Denver. And he certainly should be as much of an inspiration to ordinary people for continuing to prove himself long after most folks had given up on him fulfilling his potential. Probably more so since no one has given Smith’s rise Heavenly overtones.
Smith is just a dude who kept his nose to the grindstone while all of us stopped noticing he was there.
He didn’t do things very flashy, with 17 touchdown passes and a pedestrian average of 180.1 yards per game. However, he did do what was asked of him in terms of making sound decisions throwing the ball, as his 5 interceptions and 61.3 percent completion rate show.
Most importantly, he answered the bell and did what very few people expected to see — lead the 49ers to a playoff win not because of their defense or special teams, but because of his own play.
Smith channeled Steve Young on his 28-yard run down the sideline to put the 49ers ahead 29-24 with just 2:11 remaining in the game. It appeared his effort was all for naught when Drew Brees led the Saints back for a quick score to retake the lead, but Smith was just getting warmed up.
It was Joe Montana he resembled on the game’s final drive, leading San Francisco 85 yards down the field in just seven plays and 1:28 before throwing the winning pass into the hands of Vernon Davis.
By no means is Alex Smith a Hall of Fame quarterback. He’s not even a Pro Bowl quarterback. But he might be a Super Bowl quarterback.
Without his steady, usually unspectacular play there’s no way San Francisco is in this position today. If the 49ers win on Sunday, people may finally notice this season’s unlikeliest story.