The 49ers remarkable run to the Super Bowl has provided the media with plenty of storylines to fill the two-week gap between the conference championship games and Super Bowl 47.
There’s the rise of Colin Kaepernick, the play of San Francisco’s stout defense, Michael Crabtree’s emergence as a first-down machine and of course, the brothers Harbaugh — not to mention the hundreds more.
But there is one storyline that is being largely ignored; a storyline that I believe is more important than any other.
As a prep sports writer, I have seen the importance of leadership, camaraderie and teamwork.
The most talented teams very often don’t win it all — and usually, the “locker room” has a lot to do with it.
In the NFL, nothing can create locker room havoc like a quarterback controversy. Look no further than the New York Jets to see just how disastrous this can be on a team.
Generally, these controversies come about naturally. One quarterback fails to produce, so another is promoted to see if he can do any better.
Rarely are controversies self inflicted.
But this year, that was the case in two vastly different cities.
One was New York, where Rex Ryan and the Jets decided to bring in Tim Tebow and thus a controversy was born.
Making things even more perplexing was the way they decided to use Tebow, never really giving him a chance to usurp Mark Sanchez’s role.
Basically, the Jets got all of the turmoil that comes along with a controversy, and none of the benefits of finding out if someone else could do the job better.
And that brings me back to Smith.
With Smith performing among the league’s best, Jim Harbaugh decided to stick with Colin Kaepernick after Kaepernick performed well against he Bears in a game Smith was out of due to injury.
It wasn’t necessarily a popular decision at the time, with many fearing that Harbaugh had robbed the Niners of their best chance to win a Super Bowl.
As the weeks have gone by, fans and outsiders have grown to approve of the decision, concluding that Kaepernick provides the type of game-changing ability that could lead to Lombardi No. 6.
But what has been overshadowed is the reason a quarterback controversy can be so detrimental on a team — it usually splits the locker room.
By all accounts, that hasn’t happened in San Francisco, and much of that falls on the shoulders of Smith.
Smith could have sulked, he could have rooted against Kaepernick and against his own team.
He was surely frustrated, and has admitted as much in the past. But reports indicate that he has always been on Kaepernick’s side, mentoring the youngster that has brought us so close to the first title since 1994.
Earlier this week, Mike Greenberg said on his show, and I paraphrase, that if he were Smith he would be rooting for the team to fail. Saying that if he were replaced on his show he would want the show to be worse off without him.
That might be the attitude most would have — but thankfully it’s not Smith’s attitude.
The now backup quarterback was asked by the media earlier this week what it’s like to watch the team play for a chance to get to the Super Bowl from the sidelines. (Transcript via Tim Kawakami: http://tinyurl.com/aknpc89
-SMITH: You know, I think a lot’s being made of that.
For one, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bittersweet. Yeah, I want to be out there. That’s what you work for. Coming into the season, that’s what I was thinking about–that was the mindset, that was the goal for me.
But at the same time, it’s a team sport and these are all my teammates. You go through so much together, especially a lot of these guys that have been here for a chunk of time now.
If you can’t be happy for them then there’s something wrong with you, you know. For sure–if you’re asking me if I want to be out there. But I mean, that’s secondary to this.”
So, whether or not Smith plays a snap next week, let us never forget the contribution he made to this season’s run. He could have silently torpedoed a promising year from the background, but instead went out there every week like a true professional.
And there’s no doubt he’ll be ready to do that for one more week.
“Same thing I’ve been doing the last 10 weeks. For me, my job is to prepare and be ready to go, one,” he said during the same media session. “And then two, anything else I can do, whether it’s helping Colin or anyone else on this offense, on this team, in this locker room. That’s my job and I’m going to put everything into that. Hasn’t changed.”