Why Kaepernick? Because He’s not Smith

 Does the John Hughes classic, Pretty in Pink, explain the 49ers’ quarterback controversy?

Alex Smith, a man with an average name, is said to have average quarterbacking skills. In some circles, quarterbacks that successfully manage an offense and limit errors, are a valuable commodity. In others, they are a kind of pariah, undermining creativity, or spontaneity, or something.

Whatever the problem with these quarterbacks—as opposed to bulging, happy-footed wildcards—the NFL enjoys the competition the same way John Hughes dedicated himself to the study of nerds versus studs. And this is where our pro football/retro movie study begins.

Remember Hughes’ Pretty in Pink in which Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie, is smitten with preppie Blane, while pal Duckie plays second fiddle? Well, if Blane was a quarterback, he’d be the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. Stay with me here. That would make Smith Duckie, and Coach Jim Harbaugh Andie. (Ringwald’s characters often rubbed others the wrong way, so this analogy isn’t as big a stretch as you might think).

What Hughes unpacked so eloquently in his stories was the hope of something better. Many of his protagonists stumble into popularity only after facing a lifetime of heartache. In some instances, Pretty in Pink being one of them, the chief character is so infatuated with the idea of leaping from the wrong side of the tracks, that when she meets success, all other options pale in comparison.

So, of course, once Kaepernick strutted onto the scene, Smith paled in the eyes of Harbaugh, a “second best” QB himself an era ago. Now it’s not because Smith was underperforming, throwing too many picks, or complained that Candlestick’s winds were ruffling his beard. No, it’s because like Duckie, he’s reliable, but never makes your heart flutter. The cooler and outwardly more confident Kaepernick apparently will—some say he already has—work his mojo into Harbaugh’s heart with just intermediate experience. Something tells me the edgy coach favors tattoos and goatees over clean cut niceties. Hey, we all have our turn-ons.

With Smith nursing a concussion, Kaepernick has surely stepped up in two games. He’s tossed three touchdowns and 680 yards, and has an astronomical passer rating for a young QB. Yes, the 49ers look good with “Kaep” behind center. So much so that a number of pundits are claiming he has earned his chance. In truth, he’s earned the chance about as much as Andrew McCarthy’s sports jacket gave his character street cred.

Okay, the Niners are glimmering right now. But weren’t they with Smith anyway? In 16 games last season, Smith threw for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions—remember? That was good enough to lift the Niners from irrelevancy and propel them into Super Bowl contention. But that was last year. So, for posterity’s sake, let it be re-stated here that Smith, to this point in 2012, has thrown 13 touchdowns, completed 70% of his passes, and notched the best passer rating of his career (104). Listen, those are just numbers. If you need proof, revisit his superb scrambling and deft passing in last season’s playoff against the Saints. Miraculous stuff.

It seems quarterbacks, like underappreciated spouses, are vulnerable to the fading light of late autumn. What once seemed lithe, energetic, and full of prospect, suddenly moves in unflattering tones. Smith, though once heralded, has never really been appreciated in San Francisco, at least not by Niners brass. As the top pick in 2005, the sleight and cerebral QB was destined to struggle. Not even supersonic Cam Newton has overcome doubters as the No.1 pick—what chance did Smith ever have? It quickly became apparent he had entered into a one-sided affair in which he’d never find true happiness. Now with the rise of Kaepernick, Smith’s fate as a 49er has been sealed. He’s Jon Cryer, minus the Emmy.

You know, good luck to Harbaugh, but Smith deserves better. The current 49ers “quarterback controversy”, a re-imagining of the Montana – Young duel of 1991, reflects an outcome that’s too commonly accepted in the NFL: that the “other guy” always has greater potential. Of course he has greater potential because nobody knows what that potential is. For this reason, the back-up quarterback, the unproven talent, the unfulfilled fantasy, should be the aspiration of every young signal-caller. Ask Tim Tebow, he’ll tell you. He’s kneeling in gratitude before the football deity as we speak.

So here’s to a happy ending for Smith. The great John Hughes, at the very least, would have wanted it that way.


AP Photo/Bill Feig

About JP Pelosi

JP Pelosi is a sports writer and the editor of Why Football Is Cool, a blog about pro football trends, ideas and culture. He has written for The Globe and Mail, The Virginian Pilot, Inside Hoops, The Bleacher Report and Technorati’s football blog The Gridiron Grind.


  1. Really? Comparing Montana to Smith? Montana won 4 SBs for this franchise. Smith has floundered for most of his career. Harbaugh is the one that brought Smith into relevance, not the other way around. Smith also has good numbers/stats because he plays extremely safe or close to the vest. To get to the next level as an offense, you have to upgrade your QB play.

    CK7 is not a fleeting high school crush by Harbaugh. Fun story to read, but I completely dislike the reference. Harbaugh used Smith as a transitional QB until he could get his own in there. It’s evident by several happenings, when Harbaugh took over, he traded up to draft a QB. Then, during the offseason he looked at other veteran QB prospects. Smith knowing that, shopped around for another team as well. The writing has been on the wall for Smith for several years. He is just not a high level elite QB. Harbaugh got him to play just well enough in an amazing system to win games. But when things broke down and we needed a QB to complete third downs and carry the team, when other areas were failing, it was apparent, this is NOT the QB for the future of Harbaughs team. Not even close.

    If Harbaugh and co. can come in and make Smith look good, and win 13 games, it’s time to trust him and enjoy the relevancy that this franchise has now entered and should stay for quite a few years!!!


  1. […] by how Kaepernick assumed the starting quarterback role for the San Francisco 49ers, about which I wrote last week, now a writer from The Sporting News has employed an analogy about his tattoos in which […]

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