Gerald Herbert, AP
There's no denying that Colin Kaepernick is a tremendous talent, a dynamic double-threat quarterback who has a rocket-launcher for an arm and a guy who often makes opposing defenses pay because he can run like a deer, too.
He's got the San Francisco 49ers playing for the Super Bowl championship a week from today, and it'd be pretty darned difficult to argue with the 49ers' decision "to go with the guy who's got the hot hand."
That's the way San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh sized things up back in November, when he was weighing his options after Kaepernick's impressive performance in his first NFL start, a 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Still, I can't help but feel badly for Alex Smith, the former University of Utah star who'd been the 49ers' starting signal-caller and had piled up a superb 19-5-1 record as a starter since Harbaugh became the Niners' head coach.
Smith sustained a concussion in Week 10 of the 2012 season in the second quarter of a game against the St. Louis Rams. At that time, Smith was ranked third in the NFL in passer rating (104.1) and led the league in completion percentage (70.2).
And don't forget, he took the 49ers to the NFC championship game a year ago. All this after spending several injury-riddled seasons getting badly beaten up by opposing defenses (and many media members) when he struggled after being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
But Smith, 28, finally came into his own as an NFL quarterback in 2011 and appeared well on his way to establishing himself as a stellar starter before being sidelined with what has become the bane of pro football — a concussion.
And, of course, there's that age-old adage in sports that no player should lose his job because of an injury.
In Smith's case, though, that's precisely what happened, as Harbaugh played a hunch and stuck with the "hot hand" — even though Smith had been brandishing a pretty hot hand himself for the last couple of seasons, too.
Again, you can't argue with the results since the 25-year-old Kaepernick stepped in behind center. After all, he rushed for an NFL-record 181 yards in a playoff victory over Green Bay, then followed that up by helping them rally from a 17-0 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in last week's NFC championship game.
But now, it'd be nice to see Smith get his "Drew Bledsoe moment" in next Sunday's Super Bowl.
Bledsoe, you'll remember, was the New England Patriots' star quarterback for several seasons back in the 1990s — until some unheralded kid named Tom Brady came along.
Bledsoe led the Patriots to five playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth over his first eight years in the NFL. But early in the 2001 season, Bledsoe suffered a sheared blood vessel in his chest in a game against the New York Jets.
Brady came on and, as they say, the rest is history.
But in the Patriots' postseason run at the end of that same season, Brady was injured in the AFC championship game, and Bledsoe again got his chance. Sure enough, he threw a touchdown pass to help give New England a 24-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and propel them into the Super Bowl.
Brady came back for that and led the Patriots to their first of three Super Bowl titles, while Bledsoe wound up leaving New England, spending three seasons with the Buffalo Bills and two more with the Dallas Cowboys before retiring when the Cowboys replaced him with some guy named Tony Romo — which I believe is Italian for "can't win a big game."
Smith has two years remaining on the three-year, $24 million contract he signed before the 2012 season started. He has taken the high road, been a good teammate and hasn't grumbled, but he doesn't want to sit on the bench — he deserves to be an NFL starter.
Chances are, since the Niners obviously feel comfortable that Kaepernick is their quarterback of the future, they'll trade Smith during the upcoming offseason.
But first, here's hoping that the new kid Kaepernick tweaks an ankle or sprains a thumb — nothing serious — but just enough that Smith gets one last chance to shine on the biggest stage and brightest spotlight there is, the Super Bowl. And that he plays a vital role in helping the 49ers win their first NFL championship since the 1994 season.
After all he went through to get 'em there, he deserves at least that much.
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