Skinny Jeans, Doughnuts and Fate: The Super Bowl Ballad of Alex Smith
The owner of The Rickety Spoon usually closes shop for the night around 2 a.m., but this is Super Bowl week.
New Orleans is alive with football fever, and The Spoon’s city-renowned jazz musicians played well into the night, leaving patrons scrambling for their festive scarves and sunrise lovers on their way out the doors much later than normal.
A quick surveillance of the smoke-filled club reveals a curious sight: The figure of tall man, hunched over a corner table and sipping a thick alcoholic beverage through a straw.
“Hey, buddy?” the owner queries from the other side of the room, “Did you hear me earlier? It’s time to leave.”
Stonewalled by the figure’s silence, the owner momentarily moves on, cleaning up the last of the party favors left strewn on the bar. A little perturbed and not one to cause a fuss, he takes a deep breath before slowly walking toward the troublemaker.
“What a weird man,” the owner thinks during his approach. “What kind of six-four hoodlum wears a leather jacket and skinny jeans?”
The leather-clad man puts down his straw and stares in the direction of his assailant, allowing his cartoonish grin and beard combination to flaunt their prominent facial real estate. Without clearing his throat or changing his expression, he begins to speak, his deep voice echoing off the nearest brick wall.
“What, are you going to ‘bench’ me or something?” the man asks, wobbling slightly in his chair.
This question strikes the owner as odd, but it is only the seventh-weirdest way he has been addressed during this long night. He decides to disregard the statement.
“I said it’s time to go, pal.”
A sliver of sunlight begins to poke through the club window, illuminating the face of the skinny-jeans stranger and revealing intense light-blue eyes perched above his disheveled collection of facial hair.
“S—, turn that off, dude,” the stranger says, leaning backwards in his chair before toppling onto the floor.
Not amused and ready to call the police, the owner begins to shout.
“Listen, I told you to…”
The owner stops mid-sentence as he realizes the man has passed out on the floor. Now ready to inflict pain upon the snoozing scumbag, the owner rolls him over before pouring leftover daiquiri on the man’s face.
“JESUS!” the man yells, sitting up with wide-eyed terror.
Seeing his face fully for the first time, the owner steps back in shock. There is something terribly familiar about this fellow.
Sensing this, the man assumes a well-rehearsed persona.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he says. “Alex Smith.”
“Ohh… right,” the owner says, relieved that this is not a man named Ronald to whom he owes more than $500 of gambling debt, yet confused that this once-again stranger thinks he is famous.
“You know… the football player,” Smith says.
“As in, one of the football players who has a game tonight?” the owner asks with a chuckle.
“Wh… tonight?” Smith stammers drunkenly.
The owner knows little about football, but because the Super Bowl is such a big moneymaker for The Rickety Spoon, he knows when the damn kickoff is, thank you very much. Besides, last night was Saturday, when Washboard Willie and the gang played their headlining improv set. Everyone knows Sunday is football day.
Smith lies on the beer-stained floor, defeated.
“It’s really the Sabbath?” he asks.
“Sure as hell is, boy,” the owner replies.
Smith starts to add to his line of questioning, but is interrupted by a loud burp, then a steady stream of vomit.
“Are you serious?” the owner turns away in disgust, before hurrying to the maintenance closet to grab a mop.
When he returns, only the skinny jeans remain.
Alex Smith is gone.
“Where the HELL is he?”
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has thrown some legendary tantrums, but this one might literally take the cake.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has run off with Harbaugh’s powdered doughnut during the team’s final film session, and now Harbaugh is laying into his nearest victim, starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“HE KNOWS THOSE ARE MY FAVORITE, COLIN!”
The young man from the University of Nevada is still dazed from a long night of partying and other extracurricular activities. His black goatee itches more than usual, and all he wants to do is get back in bed. But first: unfinished business on the football field.
“Coach, the game starts in two hours,” Kaepernick says. “Can we please focus?”
“FOCUS?” Harbaugh screams, spit flying from his mouth. “Yeah, let’s do that. FOCUS ON THIS!”
Kaepernick stares down Harbaugh’s middle finger, now only centimeters from the quarterback’s face. On another day, the young athlete might be more disturbed by this sort of incalculable rage from the man assigned to run one of the most valuable sports franchises on the planet, but he is passive today. Jim will be Jim, after all.
Harbaugh storms out of the film room and into the bowels of the Louisiana Superdome, intent on finding his precious pastry.
Kaepernick surveys the rest of his offensive teammates in the room, most of whom are either asleep or looking too nervous to converse. Sitting in the back corner by himself is Kaepernick’s former competitor.
“Poor Alex,” Kaepernick thinks. “He looks like a shell of a man.”
Battling a lack of sleep and crippling depression, Smith is a fragment of his former self. There was a time when he was the man in San Francisco. Last year, he had come so close to the Super Bowl. This year, he was on track before the concussion.
“Before… Kaepernick,” Smith thinks to himself, a red flash of anger materializing on his forehead.
Now, he is the team outcast. No one even pays him enough attention to make him an appealing underdog. Smith is completely and utterly forgotten, doomed to join Charlie Batch, Matt Cassel and Blaine Gabbert on the short walk to the quarterback graveyard.
Smith can’t even raise his hand in team meetings anymore; Harbaugh simply won’t look in his direction.
Sensing that the donut caper might last longer than initially thought, Kapernick stands up and addresses the team.
“Alright, boys,” Kapernick says, “Let’s just head to the locker room.”
The scarlet-clad 49ers slowly file out of the room, filled with nerves at the prospect of being one step closer to the biggest moment of their lives.
Alex Smith remains seated, fast asleep.
The monster roars as Smith attempts to find his way unseen through a thick cornfield.
He sees his past flash by on the stalks: Miss Davidson helping him through second grade English class, relatives fussing with his hair on his 13th birthday, friends offering congratulations after his senior homecoming game.
The monster roars again, cutting the flashback short, and Smith realizes he is about to die.
A quick cut left, and he finds himself staring straight into the beast’s face. Bearing a giant red No. 7 on its chest and tattoos on both arms, the monster cackles before letting out one final, booming howl.
Smith snaps awake, still in the film room and drenched in sweat.
The Louisiana Superdome lets out a gigantic roar as Smith gets to its feet.
“Typical,” Smith thinks. “Nobody even realizes I’m missing the Super Bowl.”
Jim Nantz of CBS narrates the brisk walk to the locker room, courtesy of the televisions peppering the hallways.
“Kaepernick has been simply amazing today,” Nantz gushes. “Not even Alex Smith can disagree with coach Harbaugh’s mid-season decision at this point.”
The Niners are up 28-10 in the third quarter, and looking like a good bet to collect their sixth Lombardi trophy.
Smith sighs as he straps on his shoulder pads, then pulls on his No. 11 jersey and steps into the Superdome tunnel.
The CBS booth is abuzz during the first commercial break of the fourth quarter. The Baltimore Ravens have just scored to narrow the gap to 28-17 with 9:38 to go in the game.
Jim Nantz turns to his broadcast partner Phil Simms to do his best Nostradamus:
“I think this one is going to come down to the wire, Philly.”
“Well, I don’t know, Jim,” Simms says. “Kaepernick is on fire out there.”
Nantz rolls his eyes, turns back to the field, and squints at one of the tunnel openings.
“Holy s—,” Nantz says, “I think that’s Alex Smith.”
“What?” Simms says, swiveling in his chair, “I didn’t even realize he wasn’t on the sideline.”
Smith cringes as he is exposed to the sheer wall of noise at the end of the tunnel. He makes the long jog to the 49ers sideline, enduring jabs from countless fans en route.
“Hey Smith,” yells an overweight man in a Sean Taylor jersey, “Are they even going to give you a ring?”
The former starting quarterback begins to think about all of the things he’ll buy with the money from his soon-to-be-pawned championship jewelry.
He finally reaches the San Francisco bench and sits down next to injured running back Kendall Hunter, who promptly stands up and moves elsewhere.
“Not you, too, Kendall,” Smith says softly to himself.
A solitary tear slowly glides down Smith’s cheek, the first one he’s released since he lost his job.
“I promised I’d be stronger than this,” Smith thinks.
On the field, Colin Kapernick leans into the 49ers huddle to deliver the next play of the drive: “Slot-Z Gig Right 49 Touch,” he barks. The huddle breaks, and Kaepernick licks his palms before rubbing them together and pointing at Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
“52 is the mike,” he shouts to the offensive line.
Just before the snap, Ravens cornerback Corey Graham sneaks up to the line of scrimmage to blitz. After a sharp “HUT” from Kaepernick, Graham bursts toward the lanky quarterback, unblocked.
Kaepernick has his back turned to the surging Graham, and rears to throw a quick out route to tight end Delanie Walker.
With a great leap, Graham slams both his arms down on Kaepernick. The football pops straight up into the air, and bounces twice before it is scooped up by defensive end Arthur Jones and returned for a 26-yard touchdown.
Kaepernick writhes on the Superdome turf, clutching his right shoulder. Teammates try to lift him, but it’s no use.
The 49ers, once leading by three touchdowns, now find themselves up only four points, and without the man they have depended on for the past two months.
Harbaugh doesn’t move. He simply rotates his neck to stare at Smith, who stares right back from the bench.
The man wearing No. 7 slowly gets off the turf with the help of team doctors. No. 11 straps on his helmet and says a quick prayer.
It all feels so foreign: Coaches making calls for him. Players listening to him. Hundreds of millions of people around the world watching him.
Alex Smith is a little lost in the moment.
It is every little kid’s dream to play quarterback in the Super Bowl. Well, kind of. Smith’s dream was to play the Tin Man in La Mesa Middle School’s spring rendition of “The Wizard of Oz.” After a poor showing at auditions, he had, you know, the Super Bowl dream.
Now, with one of his lifetime goals fulfilled, Smith has business to take care of.
The trouble is, he hasn’t thrown a football in a while. Most of the week was spent at the Rickety Spoon or the local theater (to catch up on Oscar nominations), and he sure as hell didn’t throw any passes in the pre-game warm-ups.
The first call is a halfback draw to LaMichael James. As Smith relays the play in the huddle, he can see pure disappointment in his teammates’ eyes.
“They don’t think I can do this,” Smith thinks as he walks to the line of scrimmage, takes the snap and hands the ball to James for a two-yard loss.
Smith wonders if they are right as he tosses a second down pass five yards over the head of receiver Michael Crabtree.
“God, maybe Harbaugh was right,” Smith thinks.
Third down comes and goes, but not without a large gasp from the crowd. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has a chance to snag Smith’s tipped screen pass, but he crashes to the ground as the oblong pigskin bounces out of his arms.
Smith jogs off the field as the punt team comes on, ready to kick the ball back the Ravens.
Harbaugh still has not said anything to his new (old) quarterback. He won’t even look in his direction anymore. The coach never got his doughnut back from Roman, and he decides that he might legitimately murder his offensive coordinator if the Niners lose.
At best, Roman will be fired tomorrow by text message.
While Harbaugh entertains his sadistic fantasies, Joe Flacco and the Ravens take over. They slowly move the ball down the field, eating up clock and yards in unison.
After converting a fourth-and-2 at the San Francisco 33-yard-line, Baltimore scores on a Ray Rice goal line plunge.
Smith stares at the Superdome jumbotron.
“That can’t be right,” Smith mumbles to no one in particular. “There’s only a minute left?”
The Ravens ate up almost seven minutes on their epic 16-play drive, and now the 49ers have only 60 seconds to make amends for blowing their seemingly insurmountable lead.
After a Justin Tucker touchback, Smith takes his spot on the field with the rest of the Niners offense. Harbaugh decides he wants to break his vow of silence and takes over the radio transmitting to Smith’s helmet.
“SMITH, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Harbaugh shouts over the roar of the crowd.
Our hero gives a thumbs-up toward the sideline then claps both hands over his helmet ear-holes.
“LISTEN, YOU GOTTA FORGET ABOUT ALL OF THE… STUFF THAT’S HAPPENED THE LAST COUPLE MONTHS. EVERYBODY BELIEVES IN YOU.”
Smith turns back to the sideline and notices his somber defensive teammates shaking their heads in disagreement.
“I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU CAN DO THIS, MAYBE. CARPE DIEM. SEIZE THE DAY! MAKE YOUR LIFE EXTRAORDINARY!”
(Whenever Harbaugh starts running out of uplifting sentiment to yell, he begins quoting Robin Williams movies.)
“OH, S—, WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF…“
Three referees screech their whistles as the play clock hits zero seconds, then dock the 49ers five yards for a delay of game penalty. Smith takes a deep breath, motioning to the sideline to speed up their process.
“Alright, Alex,” says Greg Roman, who is now back in control of the radio channel, “Remember the gameplan.”
Smith does not remember the gameplan, as he was indisposed during every team event, practice or otherwise, this past week.
“Fly X Wheel 39 on one,” Roman barks.
Smith relays the play to the huddle, and the 49ers break to the line of scrimmage with a unified clap of hands.
With 85 yards to go in 60 seconds with no timeouts, the offense has its back against the wall, and matters are made worse when Smith fumbles the first down snap. Scrambling to recover the football, his shin smashes against a Ravens player’s facemask.
A quick white light sears across Smith’s vision as he lets out a yell before slowly getting to his feet and calling signals for the next play, a five-yard completion to Randy Moss, who scampers out of bounds.
Now seriously hobbled by his shin wound, Smith gets the third down call from Roman and limps to the line.
“Yo, Smith!” shouts Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis from across the line of scrimmage. “Stop acting like such a —– —–.”
Smith doesn’t dwell on the insult, despite the obvious oxymoron (a cat dog?). He takes the snap and wobbles three steps backward before firing a bullet down the seam of the field to tight end Delanie Walker. The play is good for 27 yards and a new set of downs, but Smith can barely jog down the field to line up and spike the ball. The extra seconds are costly.
The 49ers are still 53 yards away from the end zone, with only 29 seconds left in regulation.
“Sorry about that,” interjects Roman, “He keeps switching the radio channels. Won’t stop talking about a doughnut or something. Whatever, let’s end this now. Throwback.”
The play has only one word, but the Niners haven’t used it since pre-season.
“Coach must have brought it back into the playbook this week,” Smith thinks.
“Throwback” calls for Smith to fake a pitch left to Frank Gore, then pivot and fire a backwards lateral to Michael Crabtree, who then hucks the ball back to Smith, who then launches a deep pass to a wide-open Gore.
Smith calls the play, nods toward Crabtree, then limps to the line of scrimmage.
“White-eighty,” Smith yells out, to no one in particular. “Whiiiite-eighty set HUT!”
Everything moves at light speed. Smith gets the snap and fakes the pitch, then throws the ball to Crabtree. The star receiver throws it back to Smith, whose eyes get large as he spots Gore running alone to the end zone. Smith rears back and throws the ball as far as he can before getting blind-sided by two Ravens defenders.
From the ground, Smith looks up at the stadium’s video screen to watch his pass flutter into the arms of Gore as he crosses the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.
The crowd is louder than ever, having just witnessed the single-greatest play in Super Bowl history. The 49ers sideline erupts, while the players on the field mob Gore in the end zone, screaming.
Smith lies alone on the turf, staring at a spot 10 yards downfield.
At their first sight of the bright yellow penalty flag, the crowd hushes itself dramatically, silencing a Superdome that was reveling in deafening chaos only moments prior.
Head referee Jerome Boger flips on his microphone and faces the press box.
“Holding, offense, number seventy-seven. Ten-yard penalty. Repeat first down.”
While the faux touchdown was dazzling, it also took a significant amount of time off of the clock. Ten seconds, to be exact.
The Niners are now 63 yards away with 19 seconds to go in Super Bowl XLVII.
A pump-and-go route is thrown well by Smith, but Ravens safety Ed Reed swoops in to break up the pass at the last second. On second down, the 49ers decide to utilize their remaining timeout, and throw a quick 17-yard seam pass to Vernon Davis before stopping the clock.
It’s now third down and eight yards to go from the Ravens’ 46-yard-line, with nine seconds left in the game.
Harbaugh must make a decision: Either run one more play to try and get more yards for placekicker David Akers (risking running out the clock), or simply attempt the game-tying 63-yard field goal now.
Jimbo wisely elects to do the former, and puts the ball in Smith’s hands one more time. The quarterback knows his upper-body limbs are more than capable, but his shin wound is beginning to bleed profusely through his white sock. He can hardly stand up, let alone walk.
Nevertheless, the call comes in from the sideline: A quick sideline pass to Crabtree. No funny business.
At the line, Smith notices the Ravens are in press coverage, and seem to know exactly what is coming. The defense is attempting to make the 49ers’ play develop as slowly as possible, in order to get a potential sack that would effectively end the game.
Smith gets the snap and drops back. The Ravens run the same disguised blitz that knocked Kaepernick out of the game, and Smith gets hit by Corey Graham just as he’s about to throw the ball.
The pigskin flaps wildly into the air as Smith crumples to the ground. Thinking the play is over, Graham starts celebrating in the backfield with his back to the ball, which is now rolling around the turf without an owner.
The rest of the offensive line has done a good job maintaining their blocks, and Smith is able to get up and snatch the football just before linebacker Terrell Suggs pounces on the ground for it. Smith part spins, part hops around another oncoming rusher, then looks downfield and sees… nothing.
Since the 49ers’ play called for short out-routes, and the Ravens cheated up before the snap, the fumble has warped nearly everyone back to the line of scrimmage. No one stands between Smith and the scarlet red end zone.
Alex Smith begins to run.
The owner of The Rickety Spoon sits alone after all of his customers have left, watching countless re-runs of Super Bowl highlights on SportsCenter.
It was around the beginning of the fourth quarter when the game broadcast had caught his attention.
“It’s him,” the owner thought. “I can’t believe it.”
Alex Smith was not only a real football player, but a real football player on the 49ers trying to win the damn Super Bowl. Here he was, on the Spoon’s tiny bar television, for all of the world to see.
The owner watched as Smith led his insane comeback drive in the final minute. He gasped in horror as the quarterback fumbled on the final play. He held his breath in silent prayer as Smith collected the football and spun away from a defender before beginning his limp to glory.
Of course, Smith was knocked out cold by three Ravens while he was still 30 yards away from the end zone. One could not have expected much more from a limping white dude trying to elude 11 bloodthirsty NFL defenders.
The 49ers lost, and Smith lay motionless on the turf for a solid 20 minutes. A concerned Ravens doctor tended to him, but the NFL set up their post-game festivities around him, not wanting to upset corporate sponsors with a delayed broadcast schedule.
There was Smith, unconscious and caked in falling confetti as Roger Goodell handed Joe Flacco the Super Bowl MVP award.
When he finally wobbled to his feet in front of an empty Superdome, he walked off the field alone, seeing stars until he stripped off his uniform and stared into the locker room mirror.