Gregg Rosenthal

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What Alex Smith carries

Friday, January 20, 2012

“We want Carr, We want Carr”


The lowest moment of Alex Smith’s seven-year career in San Francisco came on October 12, 2010.  The winless 49ers hosted the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, and crowd was looking for blood.


After a fourth quarter fumble by Alex, thunderous boos poured down on Smith. He was hearing it all game from the crowd, but this matched anything I’ve ever heard – even in Philadelphia. The unmistakable chant that came with the booing was even more depressing. 


“We want Carr, we want Carr”


The home crowd wanted Smith benched in favor backup quarterback David Carr. The fanbase collectively waved the white flag. They were tired of their No. 1 overall pick bust and wanted to try another.  It was only Week Five of a rapidly devolving season.


Coach Mike Singletary tried to remove Smith from the game, but the quarterback barked back. He talked his way into staying in the contest. He wound up throwing for over 300 yards with three touchdowns in a comeback attempt that fell just short, like so many other 49er games during Smith’s tenure.


The fans got their wish two weeks later when Carr replaced an injured Smith during a loss to the Panthers. Troy Smith, who is no longer in the NFL, wound up starting six games for the 2010 49ers.  Alex Smith’s beleaguered run in San Francisco was all but over. If nothing, that gave the fans something to smile about.


Between rare and extinct


David Carr tells us a lot about Alex Smith. Just like Smith, Carr was a No. 1 overall draft pick viewed as a franchise savior. Like Smith, Carr fell flat on his face.


Carr didn’t face the same injury struggles as Smith. Carr didn’t have two head coaches question his toughness. But after five years in Houston, Carr was beat up mentally and physically. When Carr hit free agency, he wanted to take a break.  He wanted out.


"I need to take a deep breath and be around a good environment and just start enjoying the game again,'' Carr said back in 2007. “I wanted to be on a team that was fun and exciting and whether I had a chance to play right away, it didn't matter to me.''


Smith had his chance to take a deep breath in the 2011 offseason. His family wanted him to leave San Francisco, toasting to new beginnings after the 2011 season. Smith didn’t want to go anywhere.


That desire to finish what he started won over new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.


"I wanted to get to know him. I had never met him," Harbaugh said last week of his first meeting with Smith in January 2011. "I was just kind of looking in through the keyhole. But I guess the things that I wanted to know, if you boiled it down to one thing, was, did he want to start? Did he want be in the fire? Or did he want to wear the ball cap backward and backup somewhere?”


Harbaugh was asking if Alex Smith wanted to be David Carr. (Or Vince Young. Or Matt Leinart. Or JaMarcus Russell.)


"I really felt that he had the competitive drive, the (desire) to prove himself, him wanting to do it here. That's the thing that probably intrigued me the most. That character of wanting to come back and do it here in San Francisco, which is pretty rare - probably somewhere between rare and extinct. That's not just for football players. That's about anybody. ... And I thought we could really work with that character. To me that was special."


Smith’s seven fourth quarter comeback wins this season are special. His league-leading interception percentage says a lot. But the most impressive part of Smith’s season is that he’s there at all. He survived.

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Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
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