A lot on the line for Niners personnel

It’s been decided. Alex Smith will not be playing for the 49ers next season unless he’s playing for the 49ers next season. Mike Singletary is going to be replaced as coach unless he’s retained as coach. Anything else you need?

“This is a game for madmen,” said the great Vince Lombardi. “In football, we’re all mad.” Are we ever.

Coaches, players, journalists and particularly fans, a group which knows what it doesn’t want — Alex, Singletary — but is unsure of what it does want, other than the return of Joe Montana or Steve Young.

This is what we’ve heard and read the past six days in the Bay Area: The Niners need to lose to ensure Alex Smith and Mike Singletary never return; the Niners need to win, because they could make the playoffs and save the jobs of Alex Smith and Mike Singletary.

It’s the Niners against the Chargers tonight in San Diego, a game that is delightfully unpredictable. San Francisco beat the Raiders. The Raiders twice beat the Chargers, which of course could not happen but did.

Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t think you have a clue, because other than declaring the New England Patriots the best team in football, you don’t.

To borrow from Jim Mora, onetime coach and press critic, you don’t know, you can’t know, you never will know.

Especially when it comes to quarterbacks.

Which Jim Plunkett proved.

Plunkett, like Alex Smith,  was a No. 1 overall draft pick, plucked in 1971 by the Patriots. He was a talent on an untalented team, and whose knees eventually were battered and spirit was broken.

In 1976, Plunkett was traded to the 49ers. When he was waived at the end of the ’77 season, observers decided he was a bust.

Not to Al Davis, who brought Plunkett to the Raiders and allowed him to regain his confidence, after which Plunkett helped win two Super Bowls, making himself and Davis look brilliant.

This is not to suggest Smith is another Plunkett, but in the right situation with the right time, he could be just that.

You think of Smith’s second year when his offensive coordinator was Norv Turner, who was so effective he became coach of the Chargers, leaving Alex and the Niners in the rearview mirror and in the lurch.

Smith and Singletary seemed logical enough in recent conversations. Win a game, and if you’re not exactly a genius the responses achieve a certain gravitas. Hey, those guys beat Pete Carroll, so we better pay attention.

“For the first time, we really let the game come to us,” was Smith’s salient point. It didn’t hurt that the passes of Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck came to Niners defenders. Better Hasselbeck throwing the interceptions than Smith.

Singletary chooses mostly to remain noncommittal, a safe approach if not an enthralling one. He did, however, advise that against the Seahawks, “our team was the best today.”

Is he tip-toeing into the future? Does he have a future? Can we get a Lincolnesque commentary for once?

“Alex,” conceded Singletary, “has a better sense of what he can do, and we have a better sense of what we can do.”

Not terribly specific, but then how much information will anyone provide about a game for madmen?

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

GAME DAY

49ers (5-8) vs. Chargers (7-6)

WHEN: Today, 5:20 p.m.
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
TV: NFL Network, KPIX (Ch. 5)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)

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