By: Kenny Jacoby
All the Peyton Manning hubbub is over now, and where are the 49ers? That’s right—exactly where they started. They did sign former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson to reunite with Jim Harbaugh from back at the University of San Diego, but Johnson is not expected to usurp the starting spot of Alex Smith. There was a lot of hype built up about the 49ers adding Manning, but all that did was get The Faithful’s hopes up. Many people speculated that had the 49ers acquired Manning, they would be sure Super Bowl favorites. That may be so. However, for numerous reasons, the 49ers are actually better off with Smith at the helm.
Certainly I am not implying that Alex Smith is better than Peyton Manning. He isn’t. But regardless—hold the backlash—Alex Smith has done a lot for the 49ers organization. Yes, Alex Smith was beyond bad in his first few years with the 49ers. A sizeable part of that dismal performance can be attributed to having seven different offensive coordinators over seven seasons, but the rest of it was just Smith being plain bad. Nevertheless, Smith stuck it out. He wanted to prove to the 49ers that he was capable of being a worthy quarterback. He could have easily just thrown in the towel and gotten the first flight out of San Francisco. But Smith truly bleeds red and gold, and to pick up Manning after Smith’s first truly successful season as a 49er would be a betrayal.
Smith’s devotion to the 49ers organization is unquestionable. On the other hand, even if Manning became a 49er, his heart would still lie with the Colts. Even if he took the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory, he would still go down in history as the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts because of all the things he accomplished there. A Super Bowl win in San Francisco would be great, but winning it with Peyton Manning running the offense would be less valuable to the 49ers organization on the whole. It would be like the Miami Heat winning the NBA Finals—somewhat expected and not nearly as gratifying now that they are a “super team.” A Super Bowl win for the 49ers would be way more earned with Smith behind center.
It would be so extremely fitting to see Smith win a Super Bowl after eight seasons of intense scrutiny and looming questions of regret. Smith finally hoisting the Lombardi trophy would be a true zero to hero story, and that is way more valuable than bringing in a ringer to win the Super Bowl.
Speaking of ringers, bringing in Manning after having already brought in Randy Moss and Mario Manningham would be changing the entire face of the offense. The 49ers would be a completely new team—different from the team we all re-fell in love with last season.
In addition, Manning was not a long-term solution for any team. He is by no means the quarterback for the future for the Broncos, and wouldn’t have been for the 49ers either. The goal is always to acquire young talent and grow with it. If we brought both Moss and Manning to play together, we may as well call up Emmitt Smith for another go. At 36 years old, Manning only has so many good years left. Even if the 49ers did sign Manning, after three or four more seasons when it would be safe to stick a fork in him, the 49ers would be back at square one. Alex Smith would be in his 11th or 12th year in the NFL by then, and a bit past his prime at that—not to mention he would have probably already signed with another team by then. Then we would have to pray that Colin Kaepernick would be ready to go by then. One could argue that Kaepernick could just sit back and learn from Manning until Manning retires or changes teams, much in the same way Aaron Rodgers learned from Brett Favre for his first three NFL seasons. However, there is no guarantee that it will yield that result—in fact, the chances are slim. Curtis Painter spent two years as the protégé of Manning, and we all know how that turned out in 2011.
Lastly, Smith and Harbaugh have a great thing going. Harbaugh gave Smith a newfound confidence in 2011, bringing his interception total down to five and his touchdown total up to 17. We all know that Harbaugh is the savior of the 49ers, as he brought them from 6-10 under Mike Singletary to 13-3 and a muffed punt away from a Super Bowl appearance. Moreover, he did it with Alex Smith. The duo has an undeniably strong chemistry, and it did wonders for them last season. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The 49ers are clearly capable of winning a Super Bowl. They came so close last year that we could all taste it, and in 2012, they will be bringing back their entire starting 11 on defense as well as a few new big guns on offense such as Moss and Manningham. If the 49ers are going to win a Super Bowl, this is the team to do it with. If Alex Smith can bring back the same gusto this year that he had in the playoff game versus the Saints, the 49ers will be in great shape to be World Champions this year.