It’s late in the fourth quarter, and quarterback Alex Smith leads a three-and-out. Thunderous boos rain down onto Bill Walsh field followed by chants of, “We want Carr! We want Carr!” Smith and Coach Mike Singletary exchange words that I wish we could have heard. It sure seems like David Carr is getting the call to end the pandemonium. Once the San Francisco 49ers get the ball back, Carr is suited up and looks ready to go. Surprisingly, Smith has his helmet on, tells his backup to sit down, and takes the offense out on the field. At best, this demonstrates Smith’s heart, passion, and his belief that he is the best quarterback on the team. But at worst, this displays the lack of control Singletary has on his players.
There have been many instances where an individual has been booed. The traditional response to this is the middle finger. Players, coaches, even Bud Adams the Tennessee Titans owner stooped to the level of an angry mob. Not really the most creative, or original, but that one finger lets thousands of people know what one guy is thinking. Smith gave the crowd at Candlestick the finger, but in a much different way. Instead of taking the benching, flipping the bird, and forced to apologize later, he ignores his home stadium, and puts up two touchdowns.
Unfortunately, they still lost and are now 0-5. But we did have an opportunity to see something we didn’t know was there. I have never seen that kind of fire from Smith, or the relentlessness to battle against his numerous critics. It would have been so easy to sit down on the bench and mutter to himself about how much he hates the fans. That much doesn’t take anything. He knows the amount of talk that goes on about how he’s a bust. They say the best revenge is to live well. Smith played well in the last minutes to silence the crowd, momentarily of course.
I absolutely loved the play calls once Smith refused to sit. He tossed the ball downfield to his favorite target, tight end Vernon Davis. The touchdown to Davis was especially impressive because he was double covered, and the throw had to be perfect. But Smith didn’t go through his reads. The ball was going to Davis, even if three guys were on him. In a way, the crowd’s boos helped him because he played without fear. He no longer had to worry about the constant whispers of him having to play well to keep his job. If he were benched, he would probably not reclaim his position this season. And if that was going to be his final quarter as the quarterback, he did what everyone who has nothing to lose did, he didn’t care.
Singletary said in his press conference that sending Smith back out there was his call. That could be him trying to save face, and not acknowledge a player so flagrantly defy him. Or it exposes his indecisiveness. He claims that he wanted to see what Smith would do in the face of a benching. Had Smith not fought back, we might be seeing the David Carr experiment now. If true, this was a clever ploy by the head coach to reveal his quarterback’s inner being.
I’ve always respected Smith’s character. In an era where players holdout and selfishly miss training camp, he takes a pay cut to stay on the team. He could have, and probably should have made a break for it and started fresh in a new environment. However, he chose to stay. He chose to endure the blame passed onto him for an entire franchise. That kind of attitude is the kind coaches crave to have on their team, and it should be a guy a fan base would want on theirs. His intensity has always been there, but appears to have remained dormant until now. Singletary has already announced that he will continue to be the starter, but will be on a “short leash.”
It is an injustice that Smith’s last minute interception is what people will say lost the game. Did we forget that Joe Nedney missed a 40 yard field goal? Are we erasing from our memories that Frank Gore lost two fumbles? What about the poor play of Anthony Davis? He can’t seem to keep his man in front of him. Sadly, Smith is the only one threatened by the guy behind him on the depth chart. Perhaps we’ll get to see the same passion from him this Sunday. Maybe his motivation doesn’t need to be proving himself to the fans or the organization. Maybe all he needs to do is tell us to “f” off.