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For some boys it’s making their first shave on a sparsely stubbled face. For others it’s their first kiss. The rev of the engine of their first car, a handshake of a principal upon graduation or the turn of the key to a brand new apartment. For Alex Smith, it was a third and six at his own fourteen on a dreary Seattle night.
"The boy just became a grown man today, baby," Frank Gore said to a national audience following the game. "There's a lot more to come."
Alex Smith, you have arrived.
A team needing an answer following three straight losses found one in the media’s favorite scapegoat of the last few weeks. After meandering through the first three quarters on Thursday, Smith led three fourth quarter touchdown drives in Montana-esque fashion leaving Seattle’s champagne on ice for another week as the 49ers playoff hopes once again emerge. He was confident, stepping up into the pocket and throwing with authority. He was tough, shedding a Kelly Herndon tackle and nailing Frank Gore for a touchdown. Most of all, he was a leader, refusing to lose and carrying the team to victory.
Even Chris Collinsworth, who was using Smith as his personal piñata for the first three quarters, had to eat his words by the end of the game finally admitting that this team does in fact have a star to build around. Smith finished 14 of 25, for 162 yards and accounted for all three touchdowns, two by air, one on the ground. But the stats are irrelevant in comparison to what his performance means to the psyche of the team, and the future of the franchise. Stars rise to the occasion when the lights come on, and in the heat (or more accurately damp, cold) of battle, Smith did just that.
Not only did Smith become a grown man tonight, but so did his supporting cast.
"I think this team grew up a little bit tonight," Smith said.
San Francisco has been outscored 75-3 in Seattle the previous two years and entered this game as ten point underdogs to the all too eager to be anointed NFC West Champion Seahawks. The defense held strong, making a season defining stop on fourth and one late in the game and Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and Smith, the future core of the franchise, fittingly all scored to hold off Seattle’s celebration by at least one more week.
San Francisco may not win another game the rest of the season, even though the division is well within reach, but in the long run Smith and the 49ers made a statement tonight. Baby boy is all grown up.