Spander: Smith gets another chance

Unfinished business. That was Alex Smith’s explanation for returning to the 49ers last spring when logic dictated he take his battered psyche and repaired arm to another franchise.

“It was important,” said Smith. “I felt like I had unfinished business here.”

Business he barely had a chance to start. Business which none of us ever believed he would get the opportunity to complete.
And now business that would make his story enthralling.

They are his team, the 49ers. As they were supposed to be, before the constant chaos and frequent injuries. He came back, against our better judgment, given the chance for a comeback of another sort, to prove the faith once shown in him was justified.

Maybe he shouldn’t have been the first pick in the 2005 draft, but he was. There had to be some reason: talent, smarts — after all, Alex graduated Utah in 2½ years — and intuitiveness.

He’s only 25. That’s the same age at which Joe Montana became a starter in 1981. And while no one is declaring Smith the new Montana, Alex has years ahead of him, and yet years of experience.

In ’06, Alex’s second season, when he had the wise Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, Smith became the first Niners quarterback to take every snap in every game.

There’s no guarantee Smith will be a savior, despite his three-touchdown passing performance off the bench last Sunday. But here was a lesson. Smith, the Niners’ first choice in ’05, throwing to Vernon Davis, the Niners’ first choice in ’06.

There are factors such as chemistry, desire and coaching — especially coaching — but in football ability invariably makes a difference. First-rounders are supposed to be great. Otherwise they wouldn’t be first-rounders.

Mike Singletary, the guy in charge of the Niners, is impatient. He doesn’t suffer fools or laggards. Or quarterbacks who complete only 6 for 11, as did Shaun Hill the first half for the 49ers against Houston.

It wasn’t all Hill’s fault, and he is a fighter, someone who has beaten the odds. But he doesn’t have the capability of Alex Smith.
“When I looked at Alex,” said Singletary, “I didn’t know what we were going to get when he went in.”

What he, we, the Niners got was a quarterback under his sixth coordinator in six seasons, a quarterback whose courage had been questioned by the very person who drafted him, former coach Mike Nolan, playing beautifully.

No, the Houston Texans had not prepared for Smith — although in the NFL such an oversight is inexcusable. And no, Smith, who went in with the Niners trailing, 21-0, couldn’t get them closer than 24-21.

But the man who was a teammate of Reggie Bush at Helix High in San Diego, who played his college ball under Urban Meyer, had us thinking less of the present than of the future.

The Niners through history have been the team of Frankie Albert, Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia — quarterbacks who could find a receiver and find a way.

Alex Smith was drafted to be next in line, heir to that throne. He again has been handed the crown. And the football.
Time to finish business.

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.

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