No matter what happens next week, the San Francisco 49ers and their faithful fan base should be extremely pleased with the events that have transpired over the past few weeks.
Seven years ago the 49ers selected Alex Smith with the first overall draft pick. Through seemingly endless trials and tribulations, San Francisco's management has finally been vindicated in their often questioned and often criticized choice in mortgaging their future on Smith, and making the former Utah quarterback the face of their franchise.
In his seven year career Smith has been replaced as the starting QB by forgettable replacements: Shaun Hill, JT O' Sullivan, and Trent Dilfer. All but Dilfer would go on to sign decent contracts as backups based on the simple fact that they proved they could replace an incumbent quarterback at Smith's expense.
Can anyone really blame Smith for being such a late bloomer? During his seven years with the Niners Smith has served under seven different offensive coordinators. Until rookie head coach sensation Jim Harbaugh stepped onto the scene, Smith was taking orders from three different head coaches. When a team possesses a top 5 draft selection that is not acquired through a trade, there is something wrong with said team. Stability and normalcy were never parts of Smith's retinue before Harbaugh swooped in and saved the team and perhaps the quarterback himself.
The 2012 Playoffs mark the rebirth of Smith who had previously never surpassed 3000 passing yards, and had several seasons with an atrocious passer rating and unacceptable touchdown to interception ratio.
Against the New Orleans Saints who many considered to be a favorite, Smith responded with three passing scores and an amazing 28 yard touchdown run. The Niners' QB threw no interceptions and hit 8 different receivers for 299 yards which included Vernon Davis who contributed 180 and two scores to that total. When Drew Brees scored the go ahead touchdown on an otherworldly pass to Jimmy Graham the game looked all but locked up for the man with the ring and the single season passing record in NFL history. Smith took control of his team leading a two minute drill drive all the way to the end zone where he hit Davis with a game winning strike.
These playoffs make Smith look like the young man who went 21-1 as a starter in Utah that earned him Heisman consideration and made him the most sought after prospect in all of college football.
After tonight Smith and his 49ers will learn their fate; head to Green Bay and face the defending champs and Aaron Rodgers, whom Smith was selected 23 picks ahead of in the 2005 draft or stay in Frisco and meet the dragon-slaying New York Giants. Either way, either matchup, NFL fans are in for a treat and there will be plenty cheering on the successor to Joe Montana and Steve Young who will try to earn the franchise their record tying sixth Super Bowl.