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San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback Alex Smith (11) passes in the first quarter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The San Francisco 49ers played the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional playoff game. (Josie Lepe/Staff)

Alex Smith is back with the 49ers. He has either signed with the team, or will sign Wednesday, or shall have signed by the time you read these words. That is, unless you choose to doubt a report on the NFL Network -- and who would doubt the mighty force that controls the whereabouts of Rich Eisen?

It's what most of us figured would happen all along. After Smith took the 49ers to the NFC title game last season, it seemed a formality that he would re-enlist with the team, forsaking his free agent rights to go elsewhere.

Didn't go down quite that way. The "formality" of Smith's re-signing took a wild left turn over the past week when the 49ers decided to give Peyton Manning a tryout and Smith decided to sit down for a speed date with the Miami Dolphins which ultimately went nowhere. In the end, everything has returned to the same old, same old.

Except it hasn't. It won't ever be exactly the same between Smith and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, or between Smith and general manager Trent Baalke. Smith is a professional athlete and this experience won't scar him in terms of his attitude toward showing up every day and working hard. But he is also a human being. So he surely won't forget about what the 49ers put him through, either.

If I were Smith, I know what I would do. I would use the past week's events to motivate me. I would use any latent ticked-off-ness to try and show Harbaugh that he was foolish for even thinking that a 36-year-old Manning coming off a neck operation would be a better option. (Although nine out of 10 spinal surgeons would certainly have taken Manning over Smith.)


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If I were Smith, I would not go the usual route of saying that I understand why the 49ers would have to look into the possibility of inking a former Super Bowl champion quarterback and that there were no hard feelings. would not say that I feel lucky just to be back with the 49ers and that I'm a happy boy.

I would not do that because, reading Smith's body language of the last few days in those ambush shots of him at the Miami airport and SFO, he did not appear to be a happy boy at all.

So I wouldn't claim otherwise. From my observations over the past seven years, Smith is sincerely a nice guy. But it's okay to throw that aside for some honesty. I would hold a press conference to tell fans that damn right, I was a little taken aback by Harbaugh's sudden rejection of all those words he'd said about Smith being the 49ers' long term answer at quarterback. But then I would say it's just made my skin thicker and that I can't wait to face Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl after beating his brother Eli in the NFC title game -- and then flipping the bird (or sticking out my tongue) at Baalke.

I would then leave the press conference and take out receivers Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree for an expensive steak dinner, sending the bill to Jed York. Then I would fly the offensive line to Hawaii and send that bill to John York. Then I would lease a fleet of Jaguars for my running backs, and send that bill to Denise DeBartolo York.

Won't happen. But I can wish.

Over the past seven days, the Manning circus and Smith's trip to Miami created a lot of gossipy flutter that turned out to be wasted energy. So let's cut to the bottom line. Which is this:

Thanks to Smith's return and the signings of Moss and Manningham, the 49ers now have a chance to be a better team next season -- even if winning 13 games again will be more difficult against a tougher schedule. But I also think the 49ers will have an even tougher quarterback to attempt it, if Smith handles this correctly with just the right amount of well-directed snarl.

If I were him, I'd be practicing that in front of a mirror right now.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com