SANTA CLARA -- As Alex Smith watched the Saints pull away to a 34-10 victory over the 49ers in New Orleans last season, he might have thought that it was high school all over again.
While Smith suffered through a three-interception outing, his former Helix High School teammate, Reggie Bush, zipped over, around and through the 49ers' defense for four touchdowns.
Up until that game, Bush, the No. 2 draft pick that spring, had been having a very modest season. Against Smith and the 49ers, he had his coming out party.
Bush diving for an end zone pylon was the darling of the highlight shows that week. And during the game, the camera constantly panned to their high school coach, Gordon Wood, who was in the stands wearing a Saints visor and wildly cheering for his former running back.
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Some things never change.
"When I say I work at Helix High, people say, 'Oh that's where Reggie Bush went to school!' " said Giff Asimos, an economics professor at the school. "Yeah, I say, and Alex Smith, too."
That's also the way it was when the two students roamed the campus.
Bush wasn't egotistical or a showboat, Helix teachers say. But he always had a small entourage and there was always a sense that the kid who could score from anywhere on the field was destined to become famous.
Smith? He had a couple of close friends -- what Asimos called the "AP kids" -- but he was mostly quiet and kept to himself.
When the teacher asked a question and there would be a long silence, Smith would be the student who broke it by raising his hand. On the football field, he was merely the guy who handed the ball to Bush.
When Smith and Bush meet again today in San Francisco, the stars will be aligned for the quarterback to finally steal the spotlight.
Smith certainly will get the lion's share of pre-game publicity as he returns from the separated shoulder he suffered four weeks ago. His right arm is still recovering, but it was strong enough to last through three full practices during the week. Smith said he will curtail his pre-game ritual, which involves warming up several hours before the game, in order to save his strength. Otherwise he is ready to play.
The 49ers could use a savior-like performance similar to the one Bush had last year in New Orleans. They have lost four consecutive games and Smith's replacement, Trent Dilfer, threw five interceptions in the past three whereas Smith threw one in the first three.