The 49ers play against Alex Smith this Sunday.
Alex Smith is unlike any 49ers story ever.
Heck, Alex Smith is unlike any Bay Area athlete story ever.
You cannot find the comp to Alex Smith. You cannot find the comp to a No. 1 draft pick meant to save the franchise, only to flounder for six years under five offensive coordinators, to lose a year to a shoulder injury, to finally find that no one “had it better than us” in a legendary playoff win over the Saints, to take the 49ers to the NFC Championship, one agonizing game from the Super Bowl, only to lose, only to find himself kicked to the curb the next season for a bicep-kissing Superman named Colin Kaepernick, to being traded to Kansas City.
Got all that?
Because it doesn’t end there. 49ers fans followed Alex out of curiosity in KC, as he took the Chiefs to the playoffs four times, but winning only one playoff game, only to find himself kicked to the curb by a generational talent named Patrick Mahomes and to wind up in Washington DC, with an unmoored franchise and seemingly there just to keep the seat warm for their next big QB.
And then . . . the injury.
On Nov. 18, 2018, Smith suffered a compound fracture against the Houston Texans. It was gruesome. You couldn’t even bear to look. Only things got worse. An infection became life-threatening. No exaggeration. Once Smith fought past that, doctors seriously considered amputation at the knee. No exaggeration. Seventeen surgeries later, Alex Smith wanted to play football again.
Got all that?
Instead of finding someone younger, healthier, the Washington Football Team installed Smith as their No. 3 QB behind Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. It seemed crazy. He wouldn’t play again, would he? Then, Haskins played poorly. He got benched. And in Week 5 this year, Allen got hurt.
Alex Smith returned to the football field.
He’s 3-1 as a starter.
Alex Smith is the starting QB vs. the 49ers on Sunday in Glendale, AZ., in this, December of 2020.
Got all that?
It’s a lot to process. That’s why there’s never been anyone like Alex Smith in the history of Bay Area sports.
Dave Dravecky of the Giants made history coming back from cancer surgery in his left arm. An unreal story, emotional still to this day. But Dravecky never went on the exodus from the Bay that Smith has experienced, only to return to face his old team.
Bryant Young of the 49ers suffered what some thought was a career-ending compound fracture, only to return and play at a level that his him bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Again, though, Young was always a 49er. He retired a 49er.
Buster Posey and Klay Thompson have suffered injuries that tore at the Bay’s athletic heart. Again, both stayed in town, sleeping in their own beds, still feeling the Bay love.
Joe Montana was exiled to Kansas City, and got his chance to beat the 49ers in 1994. He did beat the 49ers. But Montana never went through the harrowing, life-changing injury Alex Smith did.
Ronnie Lott left town to the dismay of the fans. So did Madison Bumgarner. Financial decisions, those — the business end of sports.
What Alex Smith has experienced is unlike any other. He’s a combination of all the above stories, laced with the nagging feeling from all 49ers fans that somehow Alex Smith, one of the nicest guys ever to play in the Bay Area, one of the easiest guys to root for in 49ers history, got a raw deal — from the 49ers, from Jim Harbaugh, from the fans, from life.
Mind, his huge bank account and second home in Hawaii don’t cry out for sympathy. Spotrac says that in 16 years in the NFL, Smith has earned $189 million.
But Smith is an example of a case where money doesn’t tell the story. He’s got all the dough in the world, but he’s still trying to prove things on the football field — to his fans, to his critics, but probably most of all, to himself.
He’s a remarkable story, Alex Smith, at age 36, weather-beaten, broken, put back together, still craving wins, still getting under center. It started here, 15 years ago. Now, he’s trying to beat the 49ers.
After all these years. No one like him.
Got all that?