Seth Udinski, FISM News
NFL veteran signal-caller Alex Smith announced Monday that he is retiring from football after 16 seasons. Smith’s career is an anomoly. He was a talented quarterback, universally beloved by teammates and opponents as an unselfish leader who heroically overcame a devastating injury in the twilight of his career. Yet simultaneously, he never quite lived up to his high expectations. He made numerous playoff appearances on some very talented teams but never won a Super Bowl.
Smith was drafted out of Utah by the San Francisco 49ers as the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, several picks ahead of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers, once a dynasty in the 80s and 90s, were mired in mediocrity when they drafted Smith. With the weight of the franchise on his young shoulders, he had little success in his first several years.
But that all changed in 2011, when the Niners hired fiery head coach Jim Harbaugh. Smith excelled under Harbaugh in 2011, leading the Niners to a 13-3 record and their first NFC Western Division title in almost a decade. Smith was outstanding in a thrilling playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, but the following week, the 49ers were stunned at home by the underdog New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, 20-17.
The next year, Smith was benched early in the season for a young Colin Kaepernick in a move that baffled many football experts. Smith was not hurt, nor was there any personal conduct issue. Kaepernick had the best season of his brief career, leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl. After the 49ers lost to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, Smith signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith had his best years in Kansas City, leading the Chiefs to numerous playoff appearances and division titles. Yet he could not translate that success to playoff victories – the Chiefs lost to the Colts in a heart-breaker in the 2013 wildcard round, 45-44, in a game where they squandered a 28-point lead. They lost another heart-breaker at home against Pittsburgh in the 2016 divisional, 18-16. Finally, in the 2017 wildcard at home, the Chiefs blew a 21-3 halftime lead against the Tennessee Titans to lose 22-21 in what would be Alex Smith’s final game as a Chief.
In 2018, Smith signed with the Washington Redskins and appeared to rejuvenate the struggling franchise. He led the team to a 6-3 start and first place in the NFC East until a fateful game on November 18, 2018. Smith suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in NFL history, a shattered right leg, and was lost for the season. His rehab was brutal, and the wound from his injury was life-threatening. But Smith persevered, and after two years, he returned to the football field and almost single-handedly saved Washington’s 2020 season, going 5-1 in his six starts and leading the team to an NFC East Division title. For his efforts, he was named the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith deserves a bust in Canton, but his Hall of Fame induction is not a guarantee. He will rightly be remembered as a determined and beloved warrior of the game who overcame numerous setbacks. Aside from his injury, he also survived several brutal playoff losses, and many believe his job in San Francisco was unfairly stolen from him by an over-hyped media darling. But for Alex Smith, the question of “What if?” will always remain.