When Alex Smith was at his lowest moment, Vernon Davis was at his side. As Mike Singletary tore into Smith the sideline of a mistake-filled game on Oct. 10 2010, and as a national audience took in the spectacle, it was Davis who intervened on behalf of his quarterback.
That wasn't the only instance of the tight end's loyalty. Of all the 49ers, Davis has been the most constant and most vocal supporter of Smith, even during times when the faith of coaches, fans and teammates had begun to wane.
It's appropriate then that the duo, Smith and Davis, fueled Saturday's come-from-behind win over the Saints and connected on the franchise's biggest play in the last 13 years. Davis' 14-yard touchdown grab with nine seconds left not only gave the 49ers the victory, it allowed him to pass Kellen Winslow for the most playoff yards by a tight end in NFL history.
Winslow had 166 receiving yards for the Chargers in a division-round win over the Dolphins in 1982. Davis' total also trails only Jerry Rice's 215 yards in Super Bowl XIII for the biggest game by a 49ers receiver in postseason history.
Davis exhorted the 49ers during a half-time speech, then was put in a position to deliver them the win. "Really happy for Vernon," Smith said after the game. "Even at halftime, got in here at halftime and got a little emotional with us on offense and got after us a little bit."
The 49ers drafted Davis sixth overall in 2006 to be a weapon for Smith, whom they drafted first overall a year earlier. The tight end initially was not a very good pass catcher. He was a powerful and fast straight-line runner, but he struggled in any situation in which he wasn't squarely facing the football.
Davis, however, has worked hard to improve in that area, staying late after every practice to work on his hands and to catch passes fired from the JUGGs machine. On Saturday, he caught seven of 10 passes thrown in his direction, including three over-the-shoulder attempts that went for 106 yards.
Smith, meanwhile, was booed mercilessly in the Oct. 10 game last year - a 27-24 loss to the Eagles - and in the final game at Candlestick Park, 38-7 win over the Cardinals. In
what may be the final home game for the 49ers this season the second-to-last home for the 49ers this season, Smith was treated like a conquering hero.
And it's poetic that his biggest supporters led the way. Like Davis, left tackle Joe Staley has not wavered in his commitment to Smith, one of his best friends off the field. On Saturday, it was Staley who darted like a wide receiver ahead of Smith and made a block 20 yards down field to pave the way for Smith's 28-yard touchdown run.
"I think it's fitting for all the stuff he's been through," Staley said when asked about Smith's big game. "The year that he's having and everybody talking about how we're a run-only team, still not giving him the credit he deserves and then going toe-to-toe with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and then winning the game at the end ... it's very, very fitting."
-- Matt Barrows