Profile #5: Jimmy G
Nobody was quite sure what to expect out of Jimmy Garoppolo this season. The quarterback was coming off an ACL injury and only had 10 career starts under his belt. In case the first place standing in the NFC West doesn't say enough, I think the words of corner back and team captain Richard Sherman do.
After a dominant defeat of the Green Bay Packers in Week 12, Sherman addressed the media about who deserves the credit for the W. He said,
"Jimmy Garoppolo is our leader, and we will follow him into the darkest of dark," Sherman told reporters after the game. "We'll follow him into a dark alley, and I guarantee you won't touch him."
"You hear some of the noise and things said about him," Sherman continued about his quarterback. "It's frustrating, because we see him every day. We see what kind of work ethic he puts in, the hours he puts in, being the first one in and the last one out. The guy looks for no credit. All he does is encourage his teammates and puts more work in.
"And then you have people nitpicking. We'd run for 300 yards, and they're like 'well, he didn't throw a lot.' We ran for 300 yards! And then he throws for 400, and they're like 'well, I think he got outplayed by [Arizona Cardinals quarterback] Kyler Murray. ... The goal posts keep moving. But the one thing you can appreciate is being good enough for people to make excuses for you. He's a good enough quarterback that people have to move the goal posts for him."In short, he is not to be overlooked. And yet, that's not saying much...either.
In class when I showed the video clip for Unboxing Day, a number of my female students were smiling and then laughing. With a dead pan face I said, "Excuse me ladies—is there a problem here? There is no problem is there." I smiled with my lips and my eyes. Some things are just understood.
I wonder how many Niner fans received a #10 jersey for Christmas. I hope to report back to you an unscientific answer this Sunday and in the weeks to come.
Profile #8: Alex Smith
And if someone deserves to be a first-ballot hall of fame player for character, that honor should go to Alex Smith. Smith is the consummate sportsman and one of the more respectable athletes in the game.
Chosen as the number one pick in the 2005 draft, he played for the 49ers until 2012, when he lost his job to one Colin Kapernick, due to a concussion in a game against the Rams. Before losing the starting quarterback job, Smith was on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, yards-per-attempt, passing touchdowns and rushing yards. Not once did he complain or harbor any resentment publicly or with his teammates of his plight or his fate. No wonder he was named named to the USA Today All Joe Team for the second year in a row, and was also named the captain of the team. Niner head coach Jim Harbaugh has admitted that Smith had been more of a coach to Kaepernick later into the 2012 season than even he was.
I can still recall the disappointment of several of my students when Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. They delighted in his success at Arrowhead and shook their heads when Smith lost his job, once again, to another talented, young quarterback—one Patrick Mahomes—only to be traded to the Washington Redskins.
I didn't know that one could gain more admiration for Alex Smith, but the instagram video posted by his wife, Elizabeth moves the needle past full. Smith added a caption that reads "One year later and so much to be grateful for."
For his optimism and professionalism, work ethic and talent, he deserves to be much more than just a "19 for 2019 profile" or a jersey to gift a Niner/Chiefs/Redskins fan. Give me that HOF for character. First ballot. Bar none.
Profile #9: Steve Young
Though he retired from professional football in 1999, Steve Young warrants inclusion in this list for his contributions on my favorite sports podcast: Pardon the Interruption. Steve calls in regularly and offers the most thoughtful, introspective, cerebral yet spirited and playful remarks. I learn more from his segment than any other.
Young plays in the American Century Classic golf tournament and stays in the same hotel as my group of friends and me. While sitting in the lobby, Young walked in my direction and I had to share how much I enjoy his commentary. He looked at me incredulous. He said "You listen to PTI?" I said that I do and that I find myself quoting him often. I added "I love the way Tony Kornheiser nearly falls over himself thanking you for calling in."
Steve spent the next ten minutes talking to me and my friends about his experience on contributing to the show and how his immediate family has no interest in sports. He said he doesn't talk to anyone about PTI—for example his two sons are into acting and drama—and so this conversation was a nice one to have. I would have been happy talking to Young for as long as he wants about sports, but we wanted to respect him and his time.
I think it's important to know about what professional athletes do, what they care about and who they care for after their time in the spotlight, scoring TDs and winning titles. Young has a great mind in both arenas. As Tony loves to say "THANK YOU STEVE!" And, it should be no surprise, my friend Dotty had him sign her jersey.
Alex and Vernon