Note: This is the second half of a two part piece linked with Bay Area Sports Guy. To read Part One of this piece, click here.
I could count on both hands (and then some) the instances when I wished Alex Smith would go away. At the end of the 2010 season I was certain we’d never again see him play in a 49ers uniform. Regardless of who became the face of the 49ers’ regime change, Smith would not be a part of the equation. Six years of awful quarterbacking spoke for itself – Smith just didn’t have “it.”
I was wrong, and in fact I was forced to eat every single one of my words this season. Truth be told I enjoyed every one of them. Smith was the feel-good story of the NFL season here in the Bay Area, manning the 49ers to a single-season turnaround of historic proportions. All the while, Alex did it while defying every doubter’s voice. We kept waiting for mistakes that never came. We kept expecting a fall from grace that never happened. We said Smith couldn’t be clutch, and yet he was.
I was warned about using the word “clutch” in sports writing, but there’s not a better time to use it than now. I used to subscribe to the idea that Alex Smith simply lacked the self confidence to carry the team on his back – to win a football game when the challenge fell squarely on his shoulders. Smith’s five regular season 4th quarter comebacks put my theory on the mat; his TWO game winning drives against the Saints provided the knockout punch. Smith didn’t just hand the ball to Frank Gore; several times this season Alex Smith won games with his arm. It seems that a coach was finally able to instill in Smith some traits that before I believed were completely uncoachable – those being inherent self confidence and, yes, the ability to be “clutch,” the word Harbaugh used in his postgame speech to describe Smith after winning in Detroit.
Assuming that Greg Roman will be back with his same playbook, Smith should move into territory that has yet to be broached – A second full season with a REAL offensive coordinator. Next year will be our chance to see if Alex can grow even further upon the success that he enjoyed this year – success that had the 49ers one slippery football away from a Super Bowl berth.
In many ways I have become attached to Smith. Cockiness and swagger be damned – who doesn’t like a good underdog? It’s a persona so infectious that the entire 49ers team adopted it from their “aw-shucks” former No. 1 overall pick. There’s no point in abandoning it now, right before we find out what Smith is truly made of. Only time will tell how this Harbaugh-Smith love affair ends up, but in the meantime I’m ecstatic that Warfe was simply playing games with my mind. I couldn’t be happier with the knowledge that for now, Harbaugh is comfortable letting Alex Smith be both the caddy and the driver of the San Francisco 49ers.