San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith finally living up to potential 

click to enlarge Niners quarterback Alex Smith goes into today with the third highest pass rating in the game. (AP file photo) - NINERS QUARTERBACK ALEX SMITH GOES INTO TODAY WITH THE THIRD HIGHEST PASS RATING IN THE GAME. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Niners quarterback Alex Smith goes into today with the third highest pass rating in the game. (AP file photo)
  • Niners quarterback Alex Smith goes into today with the third highest pass rating in the game. (AP file photo)

Admit it, you didn’t want Alex Smith back as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. Not this year. Not last.

Let’s clear the air about the transformation we’ve witnessed. Not just in Smith, but in 49ers fans. Talk about letting bygones be bygones.

When Smith steps under center this morning at Ford Field in Detroit, the Niner Nation will be rooting for him to succeed. That hasn’t always been the case the past few years.

The past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a genuinely amazing turnaround in terms of a player’s standing with his team’s fan base. Just goes to show all can be forgiven when the NFL’s list of leaders in pass rating reads: 1) Aaron Rodgers; 2) Tom Brady; 3) Alex Smith.

Let’s be honest, not a single 49ers fan wanted Smith back as the team’s quarterback this season. The booing was constant last year, and Smith has been a talk-radio whipping boy since he joined the Niners.

In fact, I thought it was a cruel joke the 49ers were playing on their fans the one day camps opened during the lockout when they let Smith get his hands on the team’s 2012 playbook.

For more than a year Smith has been, in the eyes of the 49ers Faithful, the team’s equivalent of Ryan Leaf, the failed first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers. That’s how they had treated him the past two seasons.

And don’t go thinking Smith was the automatic call for the 49ers front offices. Remember, they worked out Daunte Culpepper and were admittedly searching for a veteran quarterback during the offseason.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling anybody out on having the wrong opinion of Smith. In many ways, he deserved a lot of criticism aimed his way.

Take a look at the quarterbacks who’ve started in his place since Smith has been a member of the 49ers — Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, an over-the-hill Trent Dilfer, Chris Weinke, Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan and Troy Smith. A collection of NFL greats it is not.

I’m just saying that there is so much more to this change of heart than two impressive victories.

Maybe there was more to that yearly rotation of offensive coordinators. The revolving door of head coaches.

Maybe there was something to Smith’s side of his heated moments with Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.

Smith deserves his accolades. We just have to remember they are a result of the stars lining up just right.

He didn’t have many other options if he wanted to compete to be a starting quarterback in 2011. And, frankly, Jim Harbaugh didn’t have many other options either.

Sometimes the best choices are the ones made when there is no other choice. Like Alex Smith as the 49ers starting quarterback this season.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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