<i>And (Esau) said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hath thou not reserved a blessing for me?</i> — Genesis 27:36
It is almost biblical what happens Friday night in Kansas City — Alex Smith vs. Colin Kaepernick. Esau vs. Jacob. Brother vs. brother. The eternal story. Esau and Jacob were twins. Esau came out first but Jacob grabbed his heel, as if he wanted to pull Esau back and be the first born.
If you are a 49ers fan, you root for Kaepernick, the favorite son, the favorite brother. But you feel for Smith, cheer for Smith, the first child, the good child who tried to please, always. He did his duty and he did it well and he was cast out and lost his birthright and blessing. And now he lives in Missouri.
Years ago, when he was the only son — the chosen one amongst all others — Smith agreed to an interview with me. I went to the media building, a bunker near the practice field in Santa Clara, expecting further directions about where and when to meet Smith. But Smith already was there, waiting. He sat at a desk looking like a schoolboy. On time. Respectful of manners. Dutiful.
He described himself as normal. He used the word "normal." It meant he did not have an athlete's oversized ego. He was a normal man — a good man — who happened to earn millions by throwing a strangely-shaped ball. He understood the paradox of it all.
He is slow to pick up a new offense. He said so on that day. He said being a quarterback is all about seeing. A new offense, one he's learning, has a certain look on the field. It appears vague, shifting vague patterns. Joe Montana once told me he saw colors. As long as he was surrounded by red, he was safe. When the other team's colors mingled with red or dominated, he had to flee.
Smith wondered when the vagueness would resolve itself into clarity so he could see and throw the ball with certainty. He wondered that day. In addition to being a good man he is honest.
He played for 49ers coaches who did not care for him, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. He played for a coach, Jim Harbaugh, who preferred another. Smith suffered. He was pushed aside. He didn't complain.
I never doubted Harbaugh's decision to prefer Kaepernick to Smith, to anoint the younger brother. Kaepernick is a once-in-a-generation quarterback. Smith is merely one-heck-of-a-quarterback. Smith craves perfection before he throws the ball — the receiver must be right here, the defender must be over there. Kaepernick is more daring, and in their work daring is a virtue.
Harbaugh, who says he likes Smith, must have gazed upon Kaepernick and fallen in love.
Smith and Kaepernick won't really play against each other Friday. They will not occupy the field at the same time. The game is a mere exhibition game, and each quarterback will get 20 snaps max.