Why Alex Smith deserves to be known as a Kansas City Chiefs legend

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs takes the field with teammates prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs takes the field with teammates prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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Chiefs Kingdom is hotly divided on what Alex Smith means in the context of the team’s history. Here’s the definitive case for Smith as a legend in K.C.

When I recently published a story about Alex Smith‘s recovery, and referenced him as a “Chiefs Legend”, I really did not anticipate generating much of a response. The goal of the piece was simply to honor and recognize Smith as a former Chief who did good for the organization and whose return to action would be remarkable, if not unbelievable.

It was timely because, if you have not heard, ESPN is airing a documentary chronicling Smith’s recovery from a gruesome leg injury, as the former first overall pick prepares to return to action.

In response, Chiefs Kingdom came out in droves. There were the expected feel good vibes, the complementary reflections, and hopeful replies. There was also an onslaught of people who took offense to Smith being referred to in such terms. It was truly stunning how many people appeared to believe that Smith is/was either “trash” or “garbage” or “useless.” Others made statements like, “I’m glad he’s not on the team anymore” and “What a waste of time.” (Yes, these are all actual quotes from social media comments.)

As a result of this disrespect and slander, I’ve decided we need to set the record straight for Chiefs Kingdom, and establish, clearly, that Alex Smith is a team legend. We’ll start with the arguments for his legendary status, then we’ll answer some of the rebuttals offered up by the opposition, and then we’ll reach a conclusion where you’re asked to vote on Alex Smith’s place in Chiefs history.

The Case for Alex Smith as Chiefs Legend

Any proper debate must start by ensuring that common definitions exist in order to facilitate actual clash. A “sports legend” as defined by SportsCliche.com: “A legendary player will usually have a career of above average length with some significant accomplishments.” For the purposes of this argument, we’ll roll with that definition.

There are two primary contentions in my argument: 1.) Statistically Alex Smith is a Chiefs legend, and 2.) What he accomplished in and for Kansas City is significant in Chiefs lore.

Statistical Significance

Alex Smith is not a gun-slinger. He’s not a rocket-armed, deep ball quarterback. He’s also not an all-time great in terms of accuracy or creativity. But those are not necessary components of being deemed a Chiefs Legend. We’re not talking about a Hall-of-Famer, here. We’re talking about a figure important in the history of the organization. Those are two separate tiers of individual greatness.

In terms of statistics (and we’re only looking at his time in Kansas City here), Smith was one of the best quarterbacks in Chiefs history and there is very little room for debate on that question. In the pantheon of Chiefs quarterbacks, nearly everyone has Len Dawson and Patrick Mahomes at first and second (in some order). Smith is number three, though, but some people refuse to acknowledge that.

An important note to consider, too, as we go through historical standings, is the talent that Smith played with. In 2013 he took over a team that was 2-14 the previous season. They started a rookie left tackle who was not yet ready to play at the NFL level and featured tight ends Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath and receivers like Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins, Dexter McCluster and Junior Hemingway. The only receiver of note was Dwayne Bowe, who by that point was a shell of the Pro Bowler he once was. Jamaal Charles, of course, was the league’s best running back, but you can’t run the ball every play. Smith was a Pro Bowler with that cast of receiving options.

Some data from Smith’s time as a Chief:

  • 17,608 yards (3rd all-time in Chiefs history)
  • 102 touchdowns (4th)
  • 65.1% completion percentage (2nd)
  • 66% win percentage (2nd amongst those with more than 32 starts (2 seasons))
  • 50 wins (2nd)
  • 1.4% interception rate (1st)
  • 7.2 yards per completion (5th) *Ahead of Joe Montana
  • 231.7 yards per game (3rd) *Ahead of Joe Montana
  • 94.8 quarterback rating (2nd)
  • 7.3% Sack Rate (9th) *Ahead of Len Dawson
  • 3 time Pro Bowler (2nd)

*All data assume at least 100 career pass attempts in Kansas City

**All data contained in this post was accessed from Pro Football Reference.

Chiefs Lore

While statistically Smith is an important figure in Chiefs history, it is really in the context of Chiefs history and lore where he really cements his legacy as a franchise legend. This component of determining “legend” status essentially entails answering these questions: Should you tell the story of the Kansas City Chiefs without the player? When you mention them in the story, is it a positive memory? (So Lin Elliot… not a legend.)

There are a lot of good players in Chiefs history who are not necessary components of retelling Chiefs’ history. Some notable examples include: Frank Pitts, Dan Saleaumua, Bill Kenney, Steve DeBerg, Tony Richardson, Kimble Anders, and Bill Maas. All of these were good or very good players for Kansas City, but the history of the Chiefs could be told without them.

That’s not true for Alex Smith, which cements his place as a legend. There are two stories which are paramount in the definitive Chiefs history book which you cannot tell without Alex Smith.

2012-2013, The Turnaround:

The Chiefs were 2-14 in 2012. They fired incumbent leaders like Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli, hired Andy Reid and John Dorsey, and the rest is history. One of the team’s first moves with Kansas City was to trade for Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers.

In Smith’s first year with the Chiefs, with a lot of the same roster, the team went 11-5 and made the playoffs. Not only is this one of the most historic single season turnarounds in Chiefs history, it’s one of the best turnarounds in NFL history as well. That turnaround was also the catalyst for the rest of the decade for Kansas City, which culminated in the Super Bowl LIV championship.

It would be difficult to tell the story Andy Reid and the Super Bowl LIV triumph without the 2-14 season that preceded it, the trade for Alex Smith, and the turnaround 2013 season.

Patrick Mahomes‘ MVP first season:

I am not one of those people that thinks that Mahomes would be been bad without Alex Smith. However, I do believe, strongly, that he would not have won the league MVP in his first season as a starter without Alex Smith.

Others agree:

Brandon Judd synthesized Andy Reid’s Super Bowl comments on Alex Smith and his contribution towards Patrick Mahomes’ development:

"“He wasn’t asked to do this, but he let Patrick into his world…” Reid said of Smith’s acceptance…”He was humble…but…competed…Alex…showed him how to be a pro — how you study, diet, your workout plan, how you work your family into the National Football League a…I joke about it, but it’s true: Patrick couldn’t pay Alex enough for what he gave him with that experience,”…"

Mahomes has also spoken about Alex Smith’s influence on his development are discussed here:

"“I learned a ton from Alex Smith…I attribute a lot of my success, especially so early in my career, to him. The way he was able to go about being a professional…just seeing how he went about it every single day…How he game-planned, how he recognized coverages. He didn’t hold anything back from me. He taught me. That’s just the type of person…he is.”"