Greg Smith and Brian Mann: forever linked

by Eric Powers | 11/1/01 6:00am

Both play extremely different styles of football, yet both command respect from their teammates as quarterbacks and team leaders. Both have experienced tremendous highs and wretched lows over their football careers. Both are fierce competitors, yet inseparable friends. And both are currently sidelined with similar injuries.

These two athletes, seniors Greg Smith and Brian Mann, currently share the same fate, though it wasn't always that way. There was once a time when Mann was the unquestioned starter, leaving Smith wondering if he'd ever see the playing field other than from the sideline. As this season began, Smith was the one calling the signals, with Mann left to watch as he nursed a hand injury. Now, amid a season of ironies and eerie coincidences for the Dartmouth football team, both are on the disabled list, frustrated and unable to suit up as the Big Green suffers from inexperience at football's most important position.

The quarterback situation is currently at a low point. Mann injured his hand in an off-the-field incident last summer, leaving little depth behind Smith, the annointed starter. Then, four games into this season, the worst happened: Smith was shut down for the season when a punishing sack by a Holy Cross player broke the middle finger of his throwing hand.

"I looked at my fingers, and that's when I realized I was hurt," Smith said.

The injury was tough for Smith to swallow. But in many ways, it was even tougher for the coaches, who have had to turn to several inexperienced quarterbacks -- including the rookie Evan Love '05 -- to fill this all-important role.

"It's been a nightmare," Lyons said. "You go into the season thinking you have two experienced senior quarterbacks who really understand what you're trying to do, both of whom have played well at times. You think you're pretty deep at the position having that."

Until both quarterbacks go down, that is. Ironically, Mann was supposed to be back for the very game in which Smith was knocked out, but he suffered an infection where a surgical incision was made, creating a buildup of scar tissue on the back of his hand.

"Initially it wasn't supposed to keep me out very long, but there have been many complications and setbacks along the way," Mann said.

What may be surprising to some is that after all that Smith and Mann have been through together -- the intense competition, the injuries, the good times and bad -- the pair has developed a close friendship. When Smith went down at Holy Cross, Mann accompanied him to the UMass Medical Center for X-Rays. Days later, when Smith went to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for surgery, Mann again stood by his friend's side the whole way.

Mann and Smith have been linked for some time. The two were recruited heavily in the Ivy League, and it's mere coincidence that both ended up at Dartmouth. The pair immediately engaged in a battle for the second-string spot behind Mike Coffey '99. Mann won the spot handily, exhibiting a much more refined ability than Smith.

"In our minds Greg was always bigger and stronger; he had the better arm, he was faster," Lyons said. "He had all those physical tools. But he didn't apply himself to learning what he had to learn the way Brian did. Brian won the job because he understood what we were doing and made fewer mistakes doing it. It was clearly Brian's early on and I know Greg got discouraged, and that led to more problems because he just went through the motions. He didn't handle things properly at that time."

When Mann got knocked out of last year's Colgate game with a head injury, Smith had his chance. Smith started against New Hampshire, but Lyons quickly turned back to Mann when he became healthy. Mann, however, struggled against Columbia and Harvard, at which point Lyons made the decisive switch to Smith.

"I thought Brian, for being the [starter] for a while, really handled it well," Lyons said of the switch. "That's a tribute to him, because a lot of guys wouldn't have handled it as well. I thought he was really supportive."

Once given his chance, Smith made dramatic improvement from that point until his devastating injury. Smith, who by his own admission lacked an adequate work ethic early in his career, finally added football smarts to his athletic package.

"The unfortunate part about this is that I look at these other people we're playing, and if Greg had stayed healthy we would have been moving the ball all over the field," Lyons said. "It's a shame, because we were very close. We're a much better team than we were last year."