Spander: Smith is redeeming himself in the eyes of Niners fans

The kid the 49ers could have picked had a fine game Monday night. Aaron Rodgers made us think of what might have been. The kid the Niners did pick was no less impressive the previous day.

You still can debate whether the Niners in the 2005 draft should have gone for Rodgers, playing across the Bay at Cal. We can no longer debate whether they should have not taken Alex Smith.

Nice symmetry there. Smith, settling in at quarterback, having his best game Sunday throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, then Monday night Rodgers, with Green Bay, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns, but two interceptions.

The Niners lost, as we know, 20-17 to Seattle. You couldn’t blame Alex, although the ultimate way to judge a quarterback often is by the final score. The Packers won 27-14 over Baltimore. You could credit Rodgers.

They look alike these days, if unintentionally, with shaggy beards. Smith, having been the first selection needing to wait so long to show his talent. Rodgers, who some thought might be the first selection but was No. 24, needing to wait so long until he was chosen.

So much impatience. So much criticism. Alex looked like a bust, struggling under different offensive coordinators, incurring a couple of major injuries. The Niners, we kept insisting, should have taken Rodgers, who was waiting behind Brett Favre. Smith seemed a waste.

But now Smith looks like a star. Smith looks like a No. 1 overall draft pick. Smith looks like a winner, even if Sunday the Niners, because of a botched reverse on a punt and some dropped passes, were not a winner.

Smith looks like an NFL quarterback now, which is the way Rodgers, learning from the master, Jeff Tedford at Cal, has looked since he became a starter.

Smith had it tougher, with a worse team, higher expectations and a coach — Mike Nolan — who berated him in front of teammates. But he’s survived.

And he’s made the Niners re-think their style, allowed them to be what a Bay Area football team should always be: a team that throws the ball, a team that can strike quickly.

Review the cast: Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia for the Niners; Tom Flores, Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett for the Raiders. Everyone go deep.

“I think what we’ve seen so far, so good,” Niners coach Mike Singletary said of Smith, “I don’t want to say we’ve found the next great quarterback, but he’s working, making some really great decisions. He got the ball for the most part where he wanted. Some very positive results.”

Results that make us believe Smith is the quarterback who eventually can get the Niners where they want to go.
He’s had his shoulder separated and his psyche battered. He spent a year on injured reserve. And then Sunday he threw for 300 yards without a pick.

“I’m well beyond where I was,” he said, meaning when he replaced Shaun Hill a month and a half ago. “I’m comfortable. I can just go out and pull the trigger.”

And not have us say the Niners should have taken Aaron Rodgers.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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