For one day, Alex Smith becomes one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. He beats the well-liked Drew Brees in a shootout at Candlestick Park, giving San Francisco their first NFC Championship Game berth since 1998. For once, he looks like the best quarterback from the 2005 draft class...
Then reality will hit. Tomorrow, it's Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and even T.J. Yates who will vie for attention from the throngs of football fans. Smith will become yesterday's news. Maybe, if he's lucky, he'll get a brief mention after ESPN gushes over the performance of Vernon Davis.
Smith has had to deal with adversity from the moment he put on a San Francisco 49ers uniform. Years of ineptitude despite every plausible weapon at his disposal. a new offensive coordinator every year, a season lost to injury and the fact that he is still in the shadow of Joe Montana, Steve Young and even Jeff Garcia. Basically, the position that Smith is in now is a thankless job.
Now that he's winning, he will have to remain in the shadow again. He will have to wait another week to prove that he isn't a fluke, that this isn't just a one-shot thing.
Rodgers, because he is having a remarkable season that practically guarantees him the NFL MVP award; Manning, because he is Tom Coughlin's savior. The only thing Smith will have going for him is his cardiac season, and even rags-to-riches stories are a dime a dozen.
In order for Smith to prove that he isn't a one-season wonder, he will have to do the impossible: win the Super Bowl. It's not going to be an easy task. The easiest scenario imaginable is if the Giants win against the Packers, something that is plausible, considering the way they played in the regular season.
The 49ers would have to beat the Giants and hope that the Houston Texans pull off two highly impossible upsets against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. We know Yates is solid, but he isn't Matt Schaub. The 49ers would then have to beat the Texans.
That scenario is very unlikely. Maybe the Giants will have finally figured out what the Kansas City Chiefs did to beat Green Bay, but the Texans will never beat the Ravens. Yates is too raw and the Texans have never beaten the Ravens. In addition, the Ravens will most likely lose to the Patriots, and the Patriots will either lose or win against Green Bay, or win against San Francisco.
Going back to the 49ers and Smith, it's almost unfair for him. Here's a guy who finally settled down after six rocky seasons, and now he's being thrown to the wolves.
Still, you have to admit, the man has shown a lot of character. He's lived through the bad years and the criticism, the prospect of losing his job to Troy Smith and Colin Kaepernick, and hasn't snapped like Ryan Leaf. Basically, in terms of emotion, this guy is set.
What should be known is that Smith will have plenty of support. The 49ers faithful is a large fan base, and almost everyone loves the underdog. Basically, Smith may live in the shadow tomorrow, but come next week, he'll have plenty of backers.