SANTA CLARA, Calif. – San Francisco 49ers fans are no longer booing Alex Smith and calling for his backup.
"Seems like a long time ago, longer than two years ago, for sure," Smith said Wednesday when reminded of some of those lower points in his career.
Things are going so well these days the quarterback got the chance to meet President Barack Obama this week — and the president had been keeping tabs on his team's progress to boot.
"Very cool," Smith said. "Huge honor, I mean the president of the United States. It's one of those things when you're a kid, yeah, maybe meet the president. Talked ball the whole time."
That special encounter came after Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the San Francisco Giants' Game 1 of the NL division series against Cincinnati on Saturday night.
Life is good, all right.
And to think the 49ers briefly considered adding Peyton Manning to the mix this spring, even though coach Jim Harbaugh has downplayed the interest and always insisted Smith is his guy.
Harbaugh played coy Wednesday when asked about Smith's improvements playing under the reigning NFL Coach of the Year and former NFL quarterback, clearly not wanting to offer any tips to the Giants or provide any motivational fuel, either.
"He's a football player. That's the highest compliment you can give a guy," Harbaugh said. "Encompasses a lot of things."
Nowadays, Smith owns the NFL's No. 1 passer rating at 108.7 and heads into a hyped-up rematch with the Super Bowl champion Giants (3-2) on Sunday coming off his best game yet statistically: San Francisco (4-1) piled up 621 yards and became the first team in league history with 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in the same game.
"My personal opinion is that our players outperformed what we thought was coming," Harbaugh said. "Their skill, their talent, was the greatest share. And they probably did better than what we thought."
Smith made some throws both Tuesday and Wednesday to test his sprained middle finger, and said he expects it to keep healing as the week goes on and he uses it more.
Two years ago to the day Wednesday, Smith struggled through another game with impatient fans at Candlestick Park yelling for backup David Carr. Smith talked then-coach Mike Singletary out of sending in Carr during the fourth quarter of a 27-24 loss to the Eagles. Smith wound up leading two late scoring drives but also committed three turnovers in prime time.
The 49ers fell to 0-5 for their worst start in 31 years with their third loss that season by three points or fewer.
Topsy-turvy, indeed — just like Smith's entire career since being drafted with the first overall pick in 2005 out of Utah.
Smith has made so many positive strides and memories since then, such as leading the 49ers back to the playoffs last season after an eight-year absence.
Smith had no idea Sunday until he was told afterword just how prolific San Francisco's single-game performance had been in the running and passing games. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns on the way to a remarkable 156.2 quarterback rating.
"I felt like a lot of us were pretty frustrated just by the self-inflicted mistakes — the penalties and the yards we lost in the first half," Smith said. "Obviously, there after the third quarter, a pretty successful third quarter, second half. Then when someone told me early in the fourth quarter, I guess it made sense, thinking back, yeah, we had been pretty productive and had done some good things. But no idea it was record setting."
In addition, with Frank Gore running for 106 yards and Michael Crabtree (113) and Vernon Davis (106) each going over the 100-yard mark in yards receiving, it was the first time since 1951 that the Niners had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game.
So much for the offense trying to match its talented defense now. Since that 24-13 Week 3 loss at Minnesota on Sept. 23, the 49ers have combined to outscore the New York Jets and Bills 79-3.
"It's very important for the offense to carry the team this week," Davis said. "Last year we didn't do what we were supposed to."
Davis is one of many San Francisco players to say he's still bitter about that 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC championship game at Candlestick back in January.
For years, Davis has been among Smith's biggest supporters — always confident he would emerge among the NFL's top quarterbacks.
"I've always thought Alex was a warrior," Davis said. "Alex's confidence level is rising."
Last month, Crabtree called for the offense to keep up with the defense. Not that the guys on the other side of the ball ever had any doubts.
"We see the way those guys practice," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "For them to go out there and put up the numbers that they put up, they were extraordinary numbers. We never underestimate our offense. We know that they're capable, at any time, of having a big game."