The Invincible M.A.E. (harleymae) wrote,
The Invincible M.A.E.

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The nicest things anyone's ever said about him

Even if they don't win this weekend, they're still winners to me. :) Also, the last 5 minutes of that game was more torture than the entire 2010 Giants World Series run combined.

Poole: Alex Smith, 49ers silence their doubters
By Monte Poole
Bay Area News Group
Posted: 01/14/2012 07:19:17 PM PST

With the sun disappearing and the potent New Orleans Saints vanquished at last, Alex Smith neither wept nor danced. The quarterback simply inhaled the moment as he perceived it, victory in the most spellbinding and consequential game of his life.

"We're still playing. That's what it means," Smith said after directing the 49ers to an electrifying 36-32 win over the Saints in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Candlestick Park.

For all of Alex's genuine modesty, this for him was considerably more than mere advancement to the next round of the playoffs, to the NFC Championship game.

This was his time, his silent yet clarifying speech to the disbelieving masses. This was an emphatic response to all the years when the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft was the Bay Area sports fan's runaway leader as an object of scorn and derision and ridicule.

Though the number of doubters and skeptics has dwindled somewhat during recent months, with some finally persuaded by Smith's breakthrough season and San Francisco's 13-3 record entering these playoffs, many more remained unimpressed.
They needed to see how Smith, making his postseason debut, would respond to the live-or-die urgency and pulse-pounding pressure of mid-January football.

They have their unforgettable answer. Boy, do they.

Steady throughout the game, outplaying New Orleans star Drew Brees, Smith was utterly masterful in the final minutes of a contest in doubt until the last second.

With the 49ers trailing 24-23, Smith led an 80-yard comeback drive, punctuating it with a 28-yard sprint around left end for a touchdown, with 2:11 to play. When Brees countered with touchdown pass to put the Saints back on top with 1:37 left, Smith took the field and delivered yet another comeback, finishing an 85-yard drive by zipping a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis with nine seconds left.

With a tired 49ers defense collapsing, Smith over the final 4:02 ran for one touchdown, threw for another and completed 7-of-9 passes for 135 yards. He never blinked while putting two exclamation points on the incredible finish to a riveting game.

As unfair as the comparisons to Joe Montana and Steve Young are and always will be, Smith's composure and gaudy numbers down the stretch, when excellence and grace were required, compares to anything offered by his Hall of Fame 49ers predecessors.

"It might be time to give Alex a little credit, huh?" coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Well, yes. Smith not only deserves it, but he also has earned it.

"I think it's very, very fitting when you consider what Alex has dealt with here," left tackle Joe Staley said. "It was Alex against the Saints, facing Drew Brees, a great quarterback. And Alex put us on his back."

When Smith walked off the field, after a brief embrace and exchange of pleasantries with Brees, he had completed 24 of 42 for 299 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

He also had, for once, unanimous visible admiration -- at least one woman held a sign saying "I love Alex Smith" — and the audible approval of a sellout crowd (69,732).

"It's about as good as it gets," Smith said. "There were so many ups and downs in this game, so many ups and downs. We talked about it. We knew it was going to be like that a little bit, didn't know it was going to be that extreme."

This wasn't about redemption or vindication but the seizing of an opportunity while having the right support.

"He deserves all this," said running back Frank Gore, also a member of San Francisco's 2005 draft class. "He's had some tough times. But I always believed he could play at this level. We have the right people leading us. And he's got the right people leading him."

That brings us to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, quarterbacks coach Geep Christ and Harbaugh. All have brought crucial elements to Smith's support system. All have reached him in different ways. It's called quality coaching, and it's something Smith rarely received in his first six seasons with the 49ers.

"We've got another week of work, and I don't want this to end," Smith said.

Why would he? He knows the history, because he lived it, from the endless barbs on sports-talk radio and the constant disparagement from fans, to the ringing boos at the 'Stick to, insane as it seems, a stadium of 49ers fans pleading for Alex to be replaced by sub-mediocre backup David Carr.

Consider such faithless expressions and withering critiques officially out of order.
If this piece of art from Smith can't be appreciated and savored, even more than he'll acknowledge, what could he possibly do that would squelch the doubters?

Alex Smith's career could've been far different
Eric Branch, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 2012

In their second NFL seasons, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had more yards, touchdowns and a higher quarterback rating than did Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.

After their second year in the league, however, circumstances changed dramatically for Smith and Aikman. And their divergent paths involved the same assistant coach.

In Aikman's case, the Cowboys hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator in 1991, and the struggling QB began a three-year run with Turner that included three Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl titles. For Smith, who prospered under Turner's guidance in 2006, his career began a steep descent after his offensive coordinator left San Francisco to become the Chargers' head coach.

Five years, three head coaches and five offensive coordinators later, Smith is on the doorstep of the Super Bowl and Aikman, a Fox analyst, will be in the broadcast booth Sunday when the Niners host the Giants in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park.

Thanks to their shared relationship with Turner Aikman knows better than most how Smith's career trajectory could have been far different before 2011.

"Absolutely it could have been," said Aikman, who threw 20 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and had a 7-19 record as a starter in his first two seasons. "Absolutely. I know what Norv does for a quarterback and I know what he meant to my career. ...

"That's a big part of it is having a guy who really understands offense who is able to put you in the right position. Unfortunately for Alex, Norv was just there one season and then he moved on. You know, Brett Favre ran the same offense for 35 years or however long it was. There's something to be said for that."

Aikman noted that Smith's counterpart Sunday, the Giants' Eli Manning, has had far more stability during his eight-year career. Tom Coughlin has been Manning's only head coach. New York's fifth-year offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, was Manning's position coach in his first three seasons.

For Smith, well, it's better late than never. His career has been resurrected thanks to the guidance of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who had a 15-year career as a quarterback in the NFL.

"Norv just understood," Aikman said. "He played (quarterback) in college, but without having played in the pros, he understood what that guy under center was dealing with. That's Jim Harbaugh and how he's been helpful to Alex in that regard. He's a head coach who played the position and knows how difficult the position is with the expectations and challenges."

Aikman expects Smith to continue improving under Harbaugh, noting Smith is only 27. However, he doesn't expect Smith to ever put up gaudy numbers in Harbaugh's offense, which leans heavily on the ground game.

Smith ranked 17th in the NFL in touchdowns (17) this season and 19th in yards (3,144). Aikman can relate. On offenses headlined by running back Emmitt Smith, he did not have a 4,000-yard season and threw for more than 19 touchdowns once in his 12-year career.

Aikman realized early that his career wouldn't be defined by stats, but by Super Bowls. For that reason, his only focus became winning, and he didn't tolerate teammates who didn't share his mind-set. Similarly, Smith has shrugged off questions regarding his so-so stats this season and repeatedly stated his focus is on wins and losses.

Now Smith is two wins away from sharing something else with Aikman besides their relationship with Turner.

"Right now, Alex is realizing the fruits of that; if you win, none of those other things really matter," Aikman said. "Ultimately, you get the credit and the recognition that you deserve when you win. I think at the quarterback position, if you just win, and make that a priority, the rest of it will take care of itself."

Sophomore years

Alex Smith had a better second season in the NFL than Troy Aikman. By his fourth season, however, Aikman led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title. Smith, now in his seventh season, led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and the NFC title game. A look at Year 2 of their respective careers:

Troy Aikman
YearGSCom %YardsTD-INTRat

Alex Smith
YearGSCom %YardsTD-INTRat

Alex Smith was making really good progress under Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator and I will always grump about him leaving to becoming the Chargers head coach. I'm gleeful they haven't had great success under him haha.

Alex Smith has the 49ers in good hands
At one point considered a bust, the former No. 1 pick has the Niners in the title game
By Ashley Fox

It came down to trust.
The final minutes had unfolded at a dizzying pace. Fourteen seconds remained. San Francisco trailed New Orleans 32-29 and faced third-and-4 from the Saints' 14-yard line.

New Orleans was in zone coverage with two safeties back. Vernon Davis was in the slot left, Alex Smith in the shotgun. The ball was snapped, and Smith started his delivery before Davis, running straight downfield, even cut inside. Smith was throwing to a spot he trusted Davis would reach before Roman Harper.

Smith trusted his arm. He trusted his read. He trusted his offensive line. He trusted Davis.

And perhaps more telling than anything, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh trusted Smith enough with the season on the line, in the red zone, where a mistake could end it all, to go for the win rather than play it safe for the tie and try again in overtime. Smith delivered the ball at just the right time, a split-second before Harper could get to Davis, who made the catch at the goal line to win the game.

Think about it. Harbaugh put the ball in Smith's hands and said, "Go win this," even though all season Harbaugh had asked Smith to be the caretaker of the 49ers' offense, to not make mistakes, to not turn it over, to let the defense and the run game and the spectacular special teams carry the load.

It was a fantastic catch by Davis, there is no doubt, but it was a better throw by Smith.

"He looked like Joe Montana," Ron Jaworski said on Tuesday while watching the coaches' tape of the game at his office at NFL Films. "Eventually, you have to make plays. I think in this game he actually made plays that won the game for them. Alex Smith won the game, not Alex Smith by not making mistakes. His performance won the game for them."

Since San Francisco selected him No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft, Smith has endured a parade of head coaches and offensive coordinators. Not since his second season, when Norv Turner was the Niners' offensive coordinator, has Smith had a teacher like Harbaugh. A former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh understands the nuances of the position. He sees what Smith sees. And clearly the two have developed a mutual trust in each other.

That was on display late in the game Saturday.

On Tuesday, I watched the game film first with Greg Cosell, the long-time executive producer of ESPN's "NFL Matchup," then with Jaworski. Both said Smith's play in the final four minutes of the game was a gigantic step in his maturation process, and that he made three throws that were as technically sound as any top quarterback in the NFL could make. They were throws, both men noted, that Smith had not been asked to make all season.

The first play came with 3:14 left. New Orleans had just taken its first lead of the game (24-23) on a 44-yard Darren Sproles reception. On second-and-10 from the San Francisco 33-yard line, Davis was split left, the lone receiver on that side, with two receivers on the right. The Saints were in cover-zero, an aggressive formation Cosell pointed out they played on about 10 snaps, with Malcolm Jenkins on Davis in man coverage. It was a matchup San Francisco undoubtedly liked, given the tight end's speed against the slower safety.

With a blitz coming, Smith dropped back and started his throwing motion before Davis had run 10 yards. He quickly lobbed the ball 37 yards and it fell over Davis' shoulder and into his hands for a huge gain. Three plays later, on a called quarterback run, Smith rushed 28 yards around left end and got huge blocks by wide receiver Kyle Williams on the edge and left tackle Joe Staley downfield to score a touchdown.

After the Saints answered to regain the lead, 32-29, with less than two minutes to play, New Orleans opened the 49ers' ensuing drive in its prevent defense. But Smith completed two check downs to Frank Gore, forcing the Saints back to their man-to-man.

With 40 seconds left and the Niners looking at second-and-10 from their 33-yard line, Davis was in the slot right, with Jenkins on him and Harper deep. Smith hit Davis -- who had run past Jenkins -- in stride in the middle of the field, and because of the location of the throw, Davis was able to gain 20 yards after the catch for a 47-yard pickup.
Three plays later, with the Saints dropping eight in coverage and rushing three, Smith hit Davis again to win the game.

"It's absolutely precise," Jaworski said. "That three-man rush made it a really hard throw."

During the regular season, San Francisco ranked 30th in red zone offense, scoring just 22 touchdowns in 54 appearances (40.7 percent). By comparison, the New York Jets scored touchdowns on 65.5 percent of their red zone appearances.

But according to ESPN Stats and Information, Smith now has thrown five red zone touchdowns to Davis on nine targets, including the playoffs.

Against New Orleans, the Niners were 2-of-4 in the red zone and called 18 pass plays and 11 runs on first down. They were more aggressive in this game, with Smith completing nine passes on first down. On the last two drives, Smith was 7-of-9 for 135 yard and a touchdown.

Cosell has watched every throw Smith has made this season. He said he always thought Smith was "limited" as a passer because he had "technique flaws in his delivery that prevented him from driving the ball at the intermediate and deeper levels." He also thought Smith had "a bit of windup" to his throwing motion that limited him when the pocket collapsed.

With Harbaugh running an offense that suited Smith, Cosell saw Smith's confidence grow during the season. But before Saturday, he still didn't think Smith could make the big-time throws in critical moments of a game like he did against the Saints.

"He made throws in game-deciding situations," Cosell said. "Do I now think he's Drew Brees or Tom Brady? No. But I think given that he got into that situation in a critical game and he made those throws, you've got to give him credit for that. Those were not easy throws. Those were NFL throws you have to make in this league to be a higher-level quarterback. He didn't have to do that this year."

Smith will have to do it again Sunday, when San Francisco hosts the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. Unlike New Orleans, the Giants, as Jaworski noted, will bring pressure with their aggressive front four. How Smith handles it will be a key to the game.

"He reeks of confidence right now," Jaworski said of Smith. "If there's a throw that validates that feeling, it was that game winner. I haven't seen that throw all year. In fact, that was one of my concerns going into the game. I thought New Orleans had a huge advantage in the red zone because the 49ers were settling for too many field goals.

"In that area, you have to anticipate so well and you have to trust your receivers and trust yourself, and that's exactly what that play was."

Smith Having Time of His Life
By Taylor Price
Posted 20 hours ago

Alex Smith can be hard-headed at times.

Don’t be mistaken. The 49ers quarterback is well-liked by teammates, but there’s a few that know him in a different light.

Take starting right tackle Anthony Davis for example.

When Smith jetted off on a 28-yard touchdown run, the first of two long touchdown drives to help the 49ers defeat the New Orleans Saints 36-32 to advance to the NFC Championship game, Davis tried to celebrate with his quarterback by smothering Smith in the end zone.

Smith had just been escorted into the end zone by key blocks from wide receiver Kyle Williams and left tackle Joe Staley. Meanwhile, Davis hustled downfield to be the first one to greet Smith in the end zone.

“I hit him and bounced back,” Davis said with a chuckle. “He’s got a hard head... I was just trying to make sure I didn’t knock him down.”

It’s hard to slow Smith down these days, especially in the fourth quarter where he’s led six, fourth-quarter comebacks this season.

In the best season of his seven-year career which saw him post his first, 3,000-yard passing season, Smith has led the 49ers to 14 wins and newfound respect around the National Football League.

In one of two Sports Illustrated covers to be released this week, Smith is on the West Coast regional cover along with three other teammates: center Jonathan Goodwin, fullback Bruce Miller, and 49ers all-time leading rusher Frank Gore.

“Right place, right time,” Miller joked on Wednesday.

Smith, himself, wasn’t concentrated with the spotlight he’s currently under. When Smith faces the New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning this Sunday in the NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park, it’ll be the second time in league history that two quarterbacks taken first overall have faced each other in a conference championship.

The magnitude of the moment speaks volumes to where Smith has come in seven seasons, now 1-0 in the playoffs after throwing for 299 yards and putting up four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) against New Orleans.

Coming off a remarkable moment in his much publicized career, Smith aims to make the final statement on the field, not in the media.

“I think if we win this game and go to the Super Bowl, it’ll say it in itself,” Smith said standing with the George Halas NFC Championship game trophy displayed nearby. “I’m not thinking about that right now. I really think winning games as a quarterback at this time of the year speaks for itself. That’s how you do your talking. I’m just focused on this game, preparing myself all week.”

Smith isn’t worrying himself about comparisons to Manning, the quarterback drafted first overall in 2004, one year before Smith.

“I don’t think anyone has been in the situation he has. Those are pretty unique circumstances,” Smith said of his Sunday counterpart. “Your older brother is arguably the greatest quarterback ever and there are a lot of expectations on you.

“I didn’t have to face those things.”

Smith had to face his own unique circumstances, new coaches, coordinators and offensive systems to learn and execute.

But in displaying true dedication to his craft over the years, Harbaugh instantly recognized Smith to be a winning quarterback.

Asked about what he liked about Smith for possibly the 100th time of his first season coaching in San Francisco, Harbaugh offered a succinct, yet memorable reply.

“We’ve plotted this ground pretty thoroughly, it’s well documented,” said Harbaugh, one of eight NFL head coaches who entered 2011 with NFL playing experience. “We watched the tape on Alex and felt like this could be a fresh start for him. We loved the toughness, loved the intelligence and loved the leadership ability.”

And after Smith’s two touchdown drives in the final four minutes of a monumental win over the Saints, there’s no doubt Harbaugh feels even better about the decision to commit to Smith.

Perhaps there’s no better example than Smith’s 14-yard, game-winning touchdown to Vernon Davis which sent the Saints marching back to New Orleans wondering what went wrong.

“There’s times when no-conscious throws are needed to be made and he’s done a spectacular job of that all season long,” Harbaugh said.

“It speaks volumes about Alex and how he’s understanding those situations.”

Teammates see that calm, controlled demeanor all the time.

“We knew we had to do something,” left guard Mike Iupati said of the offense’s mindset before both late scoring drives against the Saints. “We had to bring everything and it showed in the couple of big plays that we made.”

Smith’s behavior through it all has further endeared him to teammates, even ones like his right tackle, who’ll try to corral him in the end zone to join in the celebration.

“We’ve seen him take the worst of it and now he’s in the Championship game,” Anthony Davis said. “And he’s the same dude… The same dude.”

The same player who beat the Giants 27-20 at home in the regular season will have to bring another clutch performance against a New York defense that is much healthier this time around.

“They’re playing just as good as before I really feel like,” said Smith of a Giants defense that totaled 48 sacks in the regular season. “Across the board, not a lot of weaknesses. The defensive line is unique to have that many guys that can get after the passer.”

So while Smith finds himself on the cover of SI, the same week he prepares for the biggest game of his life, there’s something to be said for the 49ers quarterback who has remained humble throughout the process.

“At this point, everybody is as good as each other,” Smith said. “It comes down to how you execute on that day. We’re all capable of beating each other that’s for sure.”

Even if Smith has more media obligations than normal this week, including a sit-down interview with former 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young, the current San Francisco signal caller will continue to lead by example.

“I don’t know how many wins we were picked to have at the start of the season – not a lot of people were in our corner,” Smith said. “It was just us here working. To be down here to the last four with a chance to go to the Super Bowl this Sunday, that’s how we want it.”

Inside slant: New 'Captain Comeback' leads 49ers
By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO – Alex Smith wore a sky-blue garage mechanic's shirt with "Alex" in red script above the left pocket to his postgame interview Saturday after the signature victory of a rocky seven-season career.

The fashion statement was the San Francisco 49ers quarterback's nod to first-year coach Jim Harbaugh's training-camp ploy to issue players and coaches the shirts in an effort to instill a blue-collar team ethos.

There's no better example of Harbaugh's 49ers culture transformation than Smith. The 27-year-old has repaired his image from game manager to game-winner with a 36-32 divisional-round victory against the New Orleans Saints.

In leading the 49ers to Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants, Smith seemed to provide flashbacks to those Joe Montana and Steve Young comebacks.

Yet the former quarterback Smith channeled in leading two touchdown drives in the final 2:11 to trump the Saints was Harbaugh.

Nicknamed "Captain Comeback" during his 14-season career, Harbaugh has groomed an apprentice.

Saturday marked Smith's sixth comeback victory this season, including when he turned a 13-12 deficit against the Giants into a 27-20 victory Nov. 13.

Smith on Sunday had a 28-yard scoring run followed by a 14-yard winning touchdown strike to tight end Vernon Davis with nine seconds left to show Harbaugh's 49ers can win in a new-school, fast-break fashion as well as in a throwback, defensive style.

"Alex is a changed guy now," says Young, an ESPN analyst. "He's a championship quarterback.

"I talked to him in February when Alex was trying to decide what to do (as a free agent). He said, 'I think I'm going to do this with Jim.'

"Jim really understands and loves quarterbacks. I knew Alex would thrive in his system."

Giants quarterback Eli Manning is having a career season as well. With a win Sunday against the 49ers, he would become the first quarterback to win five road playoff games.

"Eli's playing with as much confidence as I've ever seen him play with," says his brother, Cooper Manning, who attended Sunday's 37-20 victory vs. the Green Bay Packers along with his parents, Archie and Olivia. "This Giants offense is a little more geared toward a quarterback taking control. And Eli is stepping up to the plate."

Smith probably is the most unlikely quarterback in the final four.

Tom Brady has three Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots. Manning has one with the Giants. And even Joe Flacco is 5-3 in the playoffs in his first four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

But Smith's teammates have no doubt he belongs here.

"It's fitting for all he's been through, people saying, 'We're a run-only team,' and then going toe-to-toe with Drew Brees, a great quarterback," left tackle Joe Staley says. "Alex put us on his back."

Montana was asked about his impression of Smith this month and acknowledged the hard road Smith had traveled, enduring the dizzying gantlet of seven offensive systems in seven seasons.

"I say to people, 'Change your job every six years and see how good you are at it,' " Montana says.

"When he's in rhythm, he gets the ball out of his hand and makes great decisions."

Smith's 28-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sweep following wipe-out blocks by Staley and wide receiver Kyle Williams in the fourth quarter was Young-esque.

He then was pinpoint with two key passes. His 47-yard pass to Davis just over the arms of safety Malcolm Jenkins set up his winning 14-yarder to the tight end three plays later.

"I got the window and cut it loose," Smith says.

So what do you have to say to your doubters now, Alex?

"We're still playing. That's what it means," he says.

"We've got another week of work. And I don't want this to end. I don't think anyone does in that locker room because it's been such a great year."

Alex Smith on Eli Manning’s intense scrutiny, Camp Alex and unspoken told-ya-so moments

Game face for Alex Smith, too, at his big-tent media session today.

Totally understand–it’s the biggest game of his life, now is not the time to sound like he’s auditioning for a future spot on the Fox pre-game show.

The transcript follows, nothing revelatory, and if the 49ers do win and move to the Super Bowl, Smith, Harbaugh and the rest know they’re going to get a whole lot of the same questioning–covering almost all of the same conversational territory they’ve been covering since August or September–for two straight weeks.

Yes, the fruits of triumph!

-I’ll mention one thing that struck me during the brief period the local media was allowed to watch pre-practice drills just now:

I’ve watched players on this field for years and years, doing many of the same drills, same jerseys, same whistles, same general tempo…

And every bit of that work, in previous years, was all directed with the hope that they’d get to this grandiose point–and every other time over the last many years, those hopes were futile.

Now they’re here, on the brink of the team’s first Super Bowl since the 1994 season… and it’s the same drills as the last few decades, same uniforms and many of the same players, certainly since 2005-on.

For example, I clearly remember the first mini-camp practice of Alex Smith’s career in May 2005.

Same field, same player… but it feels like it happened in a different dimension, another universe, 1,000 years ago.

Probably for Smith, too, but he’s not going to say it. No reason for him to. It’s about the game.

—–ALEX SMITH presser transcript/

-Q: What differences do you see in the Giants defense now from the one you saw in November?

-SMITH: I guess I’d kind of agree with Coach, in the sense that when we played them, obviously, they were coming off that pretty big high, they were on a pretty big win streak, they’d just beat the Patriots at the Patriots.

I think schematically maybe doing a little less, is what I see. But playing faster, though, I think it’s even helped ‘em. Seem to be creating more turnovers, playing faster on defense, not quite doing as much, just playing really sound football.

Playing just as good as they were before, I really feel like. Across the board, not a lot of weaknesses. Obviously the defensive line is unique, to have that many guys that can get after the passer is unique in this league.

-Q: You showed some edginess after your two scores late against New Orleans. What was that about? Were you trash-talking?

-SMITH: There was kind of talking going on throughout the game. Not much by me… Obviously just a lot of emotions, so when the last touchdown there to Vernon, yeah, just a lot going on.

I couldn’t tell you, I couldn’t remember what actually was coming out of my mouth. Obviously I was pretty jacked.

-Q: Do you see parallels between the scrutiny you’ve faced in your career and what Eli Manning has gone through–in NY, in the shadow of his brother, that sort of thing?

-SMITH: I’ve never seen any, other than the fact that obviously we were both first picks. It is, I feel like, a little bit different.

To be Peyton’s little brother, the No. 1 pick, you go to New York, playing for the Giants, obviously that’s a lot of pressure. I don’t think anyone’s been in the situation he has, to be that… those are pretty unique circumstances.

Your older brother’s arguably maybe the greatest quarterback ever, a lot of expectations on you and then you go to the big city like New York. I didn’t have to face those sorts of things.

-Q: How much desire do you have to say, “I told you so”?

-SMITH: I think if we win this game, go to the Super Bowl, it’ll say it in itself. I’m not thinking about that right now.

I really feel like winning games as a quarterback this time of year speaks for itself. That’s how you do your talking. So just focused on this game, preparing myself all week.

-Q: For you and a lot of guys, this sort of started with those workouts at San Jose State. What do you think was accomplished there that carries over to now?

-SMITH: Tough to say. We were there all off-season, working out and conditioning and running and doing that. As far as coming together and doing the little camps and learning the playbook, really, it was the A, B, C’s of the playbook, the fundamentals.

Just kind of a small foundation so when camp did start, when the lockout finally ended, there was a little bit of familiarity there with there guys, on the kind of language we’d be speaking, the verbiage, what some things meant.

The first coat of paint, I guess, the primer, whatever you want to call it. Kind of the first taste of it. And then obviously the bulk of it came in camp and during the season.

-Q: Was there a team-bonding effect?

-SMITH: Oh for sure. I think any time you’re doing something like that, especially without the coaches’ influence, when you’re just doing it on your own, guys are flying in from all over the country to be a part of it, spending time with each other.

No question, I think there was kind of an unspoken gain from that.

-Q: What did you guys talk about during that time–what were your hopes for the season? Did you talk about it?

-SMITH: No question, I think the focus at that time of year is always obviously the season, but the division–win the division. I think that’s the focus for most teams at the beginning of the year, the first step. Before you can talk about anything else, I think that’s what the focus has always been on.

So for us, it was that. But really, I think it was just learning as much as we could those few weeks, when we were doing that–just getting a taste of it.

-Q: That last TD pass to Vernon Davis, was that about as hard as you can throw a ball?

-SMITH: I mean obviously I knew I had to get the ball up and down. I don’t know if I can throw the ball harder. It was in the middle of a game, so I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a ball in the middle of a game as hard as I can. I think you kind of lose accuracy when you do that a little.

I knew it was a ball I kind of had to fit in there.

-Q: The Giants are supposedly the team with nothing to lose. You haven’t had the pressure, do you have the pressure on you now?

-SMITH: I guess I feel like at this point in the game, with four teams left, there’s no underdog, there’s no favorite. We’ve all got the same amount to lose, we’re all fighting for a trip to the Super Bowl.

To say that anyone should win these games, I think, is kidding themselves. I mean, look at last week. I think everybody thought the road was going to go through Lambeau. I think everybody assumed the NFC Championship Game was going to get played there.

And look what happens. These teams, at this point… everybody’s good as good as each other and it’s all going to come down to how you execute on that day. We’re all capable of beating each other, that’s for sure.

-Q: Have you heard from any former 49ers in the last couple of days? How much do you know about the rivalry with the Giants?

-SMITH: Haven’t heard much from, I guess, ex-Niners. Just getting ready for the game and preparing, don’t have time for much stuff like that. Had to do an interview with Steve Young, that’s about as close as I got, I guess, to talking to some ex-players.

As far as the rivalry, I guess not real familiar with it.

-Q: Is it fair to say that you have a chip on your shoulder?

-SMITH: I don’t know, I guess I kind of feel like this whole team is playing like that, if you want to call it that. I don’t know how many wins we were picked to have at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t many, you know?

I don’t know where we were picked to come in our division, all of that. Not a lot of people in our corner. It was just us here working. To be down to the last four here, with a chance to go to the Super Bowl this Sunday, that’s how we want it.

Obviously there’s a few more people around. But I don’t think it’s changed the mindset in the locker room, I guess.

Connecting the dots on the Alex Smith Redemption: Nolan to Singletary to Camp Alex to glory

-I said it at the time back in June and I believed it:

When Alex Smith ejected a group of reporters from the San Jose State field at the start of Camp Alex during the lockout, then refused to budge while one of us (me) strenuously objected, that was slightly irritating.

But it was also one of the first times I’d ever seen Smith out on a public ledge like that and definitely the first time I’d seen him get so angry away from a game situation.

That was the first real sign of the toughness and winning play that was to come, I can safely now say in retrospect.

In other words, showing leadership and not caring how it looked to outsiders in June meant something heading into September… and now January.
“Going to rip me for this?” Smith said back then (or something very close to that–I was arguing at the time, not recording or scribbling).

“Fine, write what you want. But this workout is closed.”

It’s a small moment, but one I can’t forget now that Smith is properly getting lauded for his late-game play in the 49ers’ transcendant victory on Saturday, and smart journalists are burrowing through the recent past for clues to how this all occurred.

This was my first clue.

It’s a tiny thing, but it was the first sign I got that this was a different Alex Smith than we’d gotten used to in his first six seasons.

I’ve written and said it (to him) many times, I’ll say it again: The best thing Alex ever did in his early 49ers career was blast Mike Nolan for mishandling him when Nolan had to be blasted… and then Alex backed away from the comments, which was disappointing.

Smith was correct to feel aggrieved back in 2007–he was hurt and Nolan accused him of not really being that hurt–and Smith was correct to give voice to that protest.

Great QBs sometimes have to air out things, when the franchise is going wrong. That’s leadership, sometimes.

Then Nolan got fired in 2008, Mike Singletary took over, got the team motivated for a short while, but of course the QB position got severely botched once again. Got botched even worse than Nolan botched it.

(At least Nolan drafted Smith–their break was about Nolan feeling let down and Smith feeling isolated; Singletary was just clueless. Again: He loudly proclaimed that the QB position wasn’t very important and kept proclaiming it. He was proud to proclaim it.

(Then, while struggling to praise Smith, Singletary described him as “meek.” Smith did not love that then and does not love that now, I can tell you.)

I don’t want to go over the whole history of the 49ers offense since 2005, but, well, I kinda just did.

Let’s jump to the spring of 2011, when Jim Harbaugh and Smith bonded over a few conversations and throwing sessions and Harbaugh constantly praising Smith in public…

Which brings us to June, during the lockout, when the 49ers had all this talent, but Harbaugh’s staff couldn’t have contact with t hem.

There was Alex Smith, burning to get his career started for real.

That brought him and his teammates to San Jose State and Camp Alex, which, it turns out, was not so silly for us to cover, after all.

Some alchemy of Harbaugh-injected swagger, maturity, stubbornness, impatience, pride and other important things were bubbling inside of Smith.

So, I’m not sure what football things were actually accomplished in Camp Alex during the lockout.

But what the 49ers players who were there said then, and what rings absolutely true now: The chemistry built there, started by Alex and Justin Smith’ insistence that anybody who could get there MUST get there, was important and new and could lead to something.

Has led to something. Mostly, it pointed to Alex Smith arriving at the damn-the-torpedoes stage in his career, and him putting a flag into the ground, declaring (mostly to himself) that he wanted to succeed here and only here, even if this was the place that almost broke him.

That’s why he wanted to succeed here, most of all.
-Here’s a column I wrote during Camp Alex, which I guessed then would be, at the least, an interesting interlude of team-building.
-And I later wrote that Smith was showing some of the truest leadership during that San Jose State sojourn that he’d ever shown.

-Watching Harbaugh so happy to stay at the podium yesterday reminded me of the last time I saw him so effusive and amped up–the first night of the draft, when the 49ers took Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick.

That was also the day after Harbaugh and Smith sealed their union, unofficially, when the lockout briefly lifted and the two men agreed that Smith would be re-signing and Harbaugh gave Smith the playbook and some film to study.

Smith took it all. He’d never quite been entrusted like this, by a coach who could realistically have wanted a total new start, and Smith loved it.

Turned out OK for everybody involved.

This is the part that fills me with ♥: Mostly, it pointed to Alex Smith arriving at the damn-the-torpedoes stage in his career, and him putting a flag into the ground, declaring (mostly to himself) that he wanted to succeed here and only here, even if this was the place that almost broke him.

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