Smith + Harbaugh > Manning + Harbaugh (Weird but True Math)

Paul WardContributor IIIMarch 19, 2012

Harbaugh and Smith
Harbaugh and SmithJeff Gross/Getty Images

Word on the street is mixed. 

On Saturday, outside Lefty O'Doul's, just off Union Square, two men had this exchange:

"You think Smith stays?" says the one, with a long white, gnarly beard and a faded 49er sweatshirt. Other man looks like you or me in a St. Paddy's hat.

"I think Harbaugh likes to call the plays,” he says. “How's Manning going to deal with that?"

"Keep Smith," said the beard. "He's earned it."

Then on the other side of the breakfast table on Sunday your very own flesh and blood takes out his earphones, after six straight months, to tell you this: "F*** Alex Smith. Are you kidding me? Look at his red zone completion rate. Second worst in the league. F*** him."  

What I admire most about the younger generation is its empathy, its varied vocabulary, its ability to articulate complex ideas and hold paradoxical thoughts at the same time.  

Doesn't matter that the leather smithy finally gets it together. Gets through being told he "wasn't really hurt," that he was "meek," that he was not that significant to the team's success. Gets past Nolan and then the Chicago ministry of defense. Through all the crap we've given and he's taken. And there's a picture of me with a pitchfork. 

You would never have imagined this that afternoon when the Saints went marching out. People would draw coo-coo-ca-choo circles next to their head. Or worse. After all, 49er fans have devolved in recent years. Thuggish is not too strong a word to describe some.

Point is, everyone, good and bad, believed. Everyone was convinced that day. Then the next week, not a great game. But I don't think you'd say Alex Smith lost that game.

So it's a business. That's what we say. It's a business and remember they got rid of Joe Montana, with two years left in his knees. The greatest Niner of all time and they had him clean out his locker.

Among life's certainties: death, taxes and it's time to clean out your locker.

Meanwhile, Smith spends five hours in Miami. The jilted lover. Maybe, he needed some sun after all the rain. Maybe they said, we’d take you to Joe's Stone Crabs, you'll love the key lime pie. Maybe, they looked at Dan Marino highlight films.

Or maybe, they look at the stats on Pro Football Focus and see that Alex Smith and Matt Moore are listed eighth and ninth—overall—for the regular season. So why would Miami want Smith if they don't think Moore is the franchise?

Then they look at the postseason: Smith is right there with Brady, Manning and Brees. Touchdowns, yards, completions. And no picks. Okay, that could take some time, and you could see how the Dolphins might get serious.

Wouldn't it be funny if the 49ers lost Smith AND Manning? Wouldn't that be a hoot?  Then you'd be stuck with Colin Kaepernickel bread, who is tied with Lefty Gomez for the longest windup in the history of throwing a projectile professionally. 

I just keep thinking what it must be like to be Smith. The universe dicking with your mind, telling you you're good enough to be a No. 1 draft pick. But then you have some bad games. You're good enough to get back in the groove but then you get injured.

You're good enough to get back in the groove again, and things don't go right. You finally get in the groove and get to the nave of the Super Bowl stadium, and they fall in love with somebody else.

The only chance for this team right now is Harbaugh. And God knows how he does it. And God knows what he wants. He has to sneak out of town to look at Manning. How did he feel about that?  Did he like doing that? So now you've brought subterfuge into play. You're inside Smith's head again.

And sure enough, he can hear the doubters whining throughout Niner Nation.

‘I mean what are the chances Smith could repeat last year’s performance? No way he can do that back to back.’  

‘Actually, Manning's four surgeries may leave his spine stronger than before. See, Smith's shoulder isn't any better than that.’  

‘I always thought that kid’s got bad luck. He’s one and done.’

Actually, six, one and done.

You hear those things and you forget everything else. You forget that Smith caddied for Harbaugh in the Pro-Am, and accepted the Coach of the Year trophy on his behalf…. You forget the trust they have, or had, and what that’s worth, to them and this team.

Cut past the chase. The 49ers aren't going to give Manning the franchise, although actually that's the one thing that would change my mind. Then you could believe in St. Anthony again.  

But they're not going to do that. So why would you come to Baghdad by the Bay if you're Manning? How do you give up Tennessee?

You don’t. Probably, you don’t. Although I thought he’d go with the Dolphins, so I’m out.

But in the meantime you've fooled around with the confidence mechanism. You put a doubt back in the kid’s head. Now, who knows what'll happen.


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