One sure thing on which Alex Smith's supporters and detractors still agree: He's no Joe Montana.
Smith does, however, have things in common with Montana other than having worn a 49ers uniform. Like Montana, Smith was exiled from San Francisco, each a runner-up in a tug-of-war with a teammate/rival whose career was unmistakably ascending. And Smith, like Montana before him, has gone on to be the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.
If the 2013 NFL regular-season schedule included 49ers vs. Chiefs, the hype would be considerable and a good portion of it would emit the scent of authenticity. As it is, though, Friday night's game at Arrowhead Stadium will be merely an exhibition. Preseason, the NFL calls it, code for Meaningless. With Smith and Colin Kaepernick, who so boldly took the 49ers' starting quarterback job last November and came agonizingly close to a Super Bowl title in February, unlikely to play more than a series or two, anyone promoting the matchup as anything more than idle curiosity has a terribly convoluted sense of drama.
Still, Smith, who quarterbacked the 49ers to an NFC championship game after the team's eight-year hiatus from the postseason and who, statistically at least, was among the NFL's best before being benched last year, is now part of a curious history. For 12 of 13 years, from 1988-2000, the Chiefs had an ex-49er as a starting quarterback. Smith, resurrecting that long-dormant trend, is now the fifth former 49ers QB to be given the reins of K.C.'s offense.
How did the previous four fare? Glad you asked.
Steve DeBerg's three seasons with the 49ers (1978-80) included leading the NFL in passes and completions in Bill Walsh's debut season as SF's head coach in 1979, when the team finished 2-14. In 1980 DeBerg was supplanted by Montana, and the rest is history, to coin a phrase. In four seasons with the Chiefs (1988-91), DeBerg was 32-22-1 as a starter, including 1-2 in the postseason.
His best season was in 1990, at age 36, when he led K.C. to an 11-5 record, throwing 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. In a return to San Francisco in 1991, DeBerg completed only 13 of 32 passes in a 28-14 loss to the Steve Bono-led 49ers.
Bono played four seasons with the 49ers (1989, 1991-93) before spending three (1994-96) with the Chiefs. He was a caddie to both Montana and Steve Young while with the 49ers, although he went 5-1 as a starter in 1991 while Young was injured. He saw little action as Montana's backup in K.C. in 1994 but had a breakout season in '95, leading the Chiefs to a 13-3 record before losing a playoff game to the Indianapolis Colts, quarterbacked by Jim Harbaugh.
Elvis Grbac was Young's backup for three seasons (1994-1996) in San Francisco, going 6-3 as a starter. In four seasons with Kansas City (1997-2000), he was 34-28 as a starter, including a loss in the '97 postseason to eventual Super Bowl champion Denver after leading the Chiefs to a 13-3 regular-season record. Statistically, his best season in K.C. was 2000, when he threw 28 touchdown passes and his 89.9 QB rating earned him a Pro Bowl appearance. But the Chiefs finished out of the playoffs with a 7-9 mark, including a 21-7 loss to the Niners at Candlestick Park, where he was outplayed by Jeff Garcia.