Smith tossed a perfect 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis with 9 seconds remaining as the Niners stunned Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints 36-32 in the divisional playoffs last year.
Smith, once booed by the home crowd as he struggled to find a groove for an ever-changing list of offensive coordinators, finally shined last season and produced a career year while thriving under the guidance of former NFL quarterback Harbaugh.
It was Smith, unsigned at the time, who organized San Francisco's summer workouts at nearby San Jose State during the 2011 lockout. Harbaugh handed over his playbook, fully trusting that Smith would be back. He did return on a one-year deal and guided the 49ers to a 13-3 record to end an eight-year playoff drought. Then, he received a three-year contract last spring after Harbaugh and the 49ers flew to North Carolina to work out Peyton Manning, who wound up in Denver.
Smith showed no hard feelings and went back to work. Here's a guy who threw for 1,737 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions and posted a 104.1 passer rating this season.
His family life certainly helps him keep everything in perspective.
Smith and his wife, Elizabeth, are expecting their second son in mid-March to join big brother-to-be Hudson, who turns 2 in May.
Smith has said all the right things and quietly left much unsaid. He has stayed behind the scenes and out of the spotlight — rarely seen in the locker room, even — praising Kaepernick's clutch decision-making and cool demeanor all the while.
"Alex has been a class act as far as handling everything that is going on," Davis said. "He's been through a lot. But he also understands that it's the nature of the business. And this is a business."
It's not as though it was Smith's first benching. There were several changes during the 2010 season alone.
These days, Smith's backup job is far from complicated.
"For me, it's just being worried about being ready to go," Smith said. "That's my responsibility, knowing the game plan, staying in it, staying focused in the meetings. You don't get the reps that you used to get, so it's a different style of preparation. For me, I have to take the reps standing back there watching, and really do it through Kap.
"You never know when your opportunity's going to come. The good ones are ready when they do come."
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