Eleven years ago, Alex Smith was No. 1.
Aaron Rodgers was not.
Armed with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, the San Francisco 49ers -- with a young offensive coordinator by the name of Mike McCarthy to mentor a young quarterback -- chose Smith.
Rodgers fell -- and fell some more -- all the way to No. 24.
The rest is history that’s being brought back to life as these friends get ready to renew acquaintances on Monday night, with Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs visiting Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
“He and I through that whole process became pretty good buddies through it all, even to this point,” Smith said during a conference call with Packers beat writers on Thursday. “Certainly, you understand, I mean, we’re all competitive. At the time, coming out of college, of course we’re all competing. You’re at the same position, so certainly you’re competing against each other. You can definitely understand it at the time, but at this point? Eleven years later, he’s got two MVPs and a Super Bowl. I think he’s done OK, you know? I certainly think draft status, whatever, we’ve certainly moved beyond that.”
Rodgers has the longest of memories and can find motivation in most slights. This one, however, has long since passed its expiration date.
“Not really anymore,” Rodgers said. “Alex and I are good buddies. I love seeing him and his family in Tahoe (for a celebrity golf tournament). He’s one of the guys I pull for. He’s a great guy – and he’s been through a lot in his career with different coaches and teams now, and he’s done a great job. I’m really happy for him. He’s one of those guys I really pull for when I’m not playing him. So, it’s good to spend a little time with him and no animosity whatsoever.”
During his first three seasons in the league, Smith was awful --- 19 touchdowns vs. 31 interceptions and a 11-19 record as a starter. Rodgers, on the other hand, couldn’t get on the field behind Brett Favre. Finally, in 2008, both of their careers got pointed in the right direction. While Rodgers finally got his opportunity in Green Bay, Smith had his best season to date with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In 2010, Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory. In 2011, Rodgers won his first MVP and Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship Game. In 2012, even while posting a career-best 104.1 passer rating, the 49ers phased out Smith and went with Colin Kaepernick. Then, Smith was shipped to Kansas City for a pair of second-round picks. In two-plus seasons with the Chiefs, he has posted a 20-12 record with 44 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
On Monday, they’ll be in the spotlight once more. Rodgers, a two-time MVP, has the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history with 230 touchdowns vs. just 57 interceptions. Smith has thrown 125 touchdowns vs. 78 interceptions.
Put simply, 11 years later, Rodgers is No. 1. He is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Smith is nothing more than a decent starter. Rodgers is good enough to get the Packers to the Super Bowl every year. Maybe, if enough things go right, Smith could get the Chiefs that far.
Smith shrugs it all off. He’s heard the comparisons for a decade. He’s content with who he is and what his career has become.
“It was so different early,” Smith said. “When you first get drafted is when you probably have the hardest time dealing with it, because you’re trying to prove to everybody. I was playing, and certainly I had my struggles early. And Aaron wasn’t playing. So it was different. It wasn’t until Years 4, 5, 6 that I started just playing, and playing really well. At that point, though, you’re beyond it – at least I was. You’re over it. the last thing you’re thinking about is where I got drafted.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.