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How Not to Succeed in Business Even Though You Were Really Trying: The Alex Smith Story

Jan 30, 2013, 6:45 PM EDT

alexsmith2 Getty Images

Let’s say that you’ve been saving your money every day since you were 13 years old so that you could buy a car when you turned 16. You had the cash stored in a large cigar box beneath your bed — money from your paper route; wadded singles from mowing countless lawns; loose change begged from relatives … not just yours — everybody’s relatives.

And finally the big day is almost here, and you’ve got about three grand saved up — enough for a decent used car, once your parents match it (you’ve not only videotaped that promise, but posted it on YouTube). But about two months before your birthday, your parents call you in to the living room for a talk.

DAD: “We know you’ve done all the right things and saved your money and worked really hard, and this family appreciates all of your efforts.”

MOM: “You were the big reason our Christmas card photo was so successful this year.”

DAD: “Yes, you’ve been a terrific son. But, well, your brother is 18, and he doesn’t have a car. And he’s a much better driver than you, and …”

MOM: “What your father is trying to say is, your brother is getting the car.”

DAD: “It’s for the good of the family — we know you’ll understand. (Takes cigar box from son, opens it, withdraws a five-dollar bill). “Here. Buy yourself something nice.”

Your reaction might be similar to that of Manti Te’o’s when he discovered his girlfriend wasn’t real, or perhaps this cat.

Or maybe you’d feel just like Alex Smith.

If Smith’s life were a movie poster, the copy would look something like this: The record-setting quarterback who got injured. The injured quarterback who became a backup. The backup who reached the Super Bowl. From Billboard to Clipboard: The Alex Smith Story.

Alex Smith did all the interviews at Super Bowl Media Day and said all the right things, because Alex Smith is a good soldier. But he’s a lonely soldier — standing on the sideline holding a (football/teddy bear: pick one) as Colin Kaepernick calls signals and sprints about the field in the playoffs.

Ah, Kaepernick. How big is he? People at a Modesto, CA, bakery are working around the clock at this very hour making dozens of Kaepernick arm cakes to meet the high demand. And people throughout the nation are Kaepernicking (that’s kissing one’s bicep), and getting Kaepernick tattoos, as the 49ers prepare to meet the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. But shouldn’t this be Smith’s time? Shouldn’t fans be baking Smith body parts? Shouldn’t everyone be Smithing? I’m not even sure what that would be, and I guess we’ll never know.

Our story so far: Smith led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season, and through no fault of his, the Niners lost to the Giants. He then had them on a 7-2 roll this season, including a win in the opener with the Packers. His 18-of-19 passing performance against the Cardinals was one completion short of the NFL single-game completion percentage record, and he was leading the league in overall season percentage. He also set a team record for most passes without an interception.

But in San Francisco, that kind of resume gets you fired.

Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams, and you know what happened after that. Bobcat Goldthwait has a line that sums it up perfectly:

“I lost my job the other day. Well, I didn’t lose it exactly, I know where it is. It’s just that when I go in they have someone else doing it.”

Smith signed a three-year, $24 million contract on March 20. If he’s still on the roster on April 1, he’d get his full 2013 base salary of $7.5 million. That seems way high for a backup these days.

So it’s hard to know exactly what Alex Smith is feeling right now, because this kind of move is unprecedented. Previously in the NFL, and in all of pro sports, really, you were only replaced if you either didn’t play well, or were too hurt to continue. Of course there’s always the occasional violation of the morals clause in your contract, but we won’t go into that because it doesn’t apply.

But Smith recovered from his concussion, dutifully got a doctor’s note, and returned to the field to play quarterback — only to find out that someone else was doing it. Kaepernick was named the starter and Smith was pistol-optioned out the door. Smith has said he doesn’t care for the situation (most telling comment: “This sucks.”). But that’s not exactly a tantrum. Terrell Owens doesn’t even get out of bed in the morning for a complaint as benign as that.

Not only have his complaints been weak and uninspired, but Smith has actually helped Kaepernick get up to speed in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh said that Smith actually has been coaching Kaepernick more than he has.

As for reports that Smith wants to be released by the 49ers, he has “no idea where that came from.” (see video above).  He’s saying all the right things, but is that how he really feels? It can’t be. So it’s up to me to figure out what’s really going on in his mind right now. I think there are two possibilities:

1. He’s going to kill all his enemies with kindness. This is the passive-aggressive approach that is a favorite with many: I’ll make you feel so guilty that you’ll hurl yourself out a ninth-floor window when you realize what you’ve done to me. Most of us can relate, after all. Think of all the times you’ve been unfairly passed over; the times you’ve done exemplary work for little or no reward; the times you’ve been overlooked, mocked and abused. They didn’t give you a chance! And when they did, you shined — until you were pushed aside for someone younger and cheaper. And the really pretty girl went out with that other guy because he had all the money.

Well, Alex Smith wants to be your patron saint. He has suffered the slings and arrows of seven different offensive coordinators over seven seasons. You didn’t get that promotion at work, even though you were the most qualified? Alex feels you pain. He will suffer for you.

2. He’s secretly plotting to take over the world. He hides his true emotions, and he hides them well. By this time next year he’ll be the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns … or better yet, the Jets. And he’ll be in the Super Bowl, playing the (spins wheel) Packers, and the final score is Jets 70, Packers 3, and Mike McCarthy will say “I should have traded Rodgers for you, Alex! I’ve been a fool!”

Or maybe Smith will stick around — take a serious pay cut and remain the backup. Until the day, that is, that Kaepernick is injured in a suspicious therapy tub mishap in the team training room. Why was Kaepernick there at that particular time, and why was the tub’s temperature gauge turned to “explode”? The answers are shrouded in mystery.

But one thing is clear: Alex Smith is once again the starter for your San Francisco 49ers.

Perhaps it won’t be a hot tub explosion, but life is rough in the NFL, and Kaepernick is bound to get hurt sometime. Maybe even this Sunday. And when that happens, Alex Smith — old reliable, the Patron Saint of the Overlooked — will be ready to go in and save the day.

Then you’ll all be sorry, and you’ll want to apologize to Alex. But you’ll have to wait your turn, because someone else is doing it.

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