Jim Harbaugh hijacks press conference to talk about Peyton Manning

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked a question about defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga throwing the football when he hijacked his own press conference today.

Sopoaga, you see, can reportedly throw the football about 70 yards in the air. He’s got a terrific throwing motion, particularly for a defensive lineman, and can flat out wing the ball.

But in answering questions about Sopoaga, Harbaugh decided to change the topic to another guy who is a little more well known for throwing the football – Peyton Manning.

“Oh, one other thing,” Harbaugh said, according to a transcript provided by the club. “There’s the perception out there, and it’s an erroneous perception, that we were flirting with Peyton Manning (way back in March). I keep hearing that over and over and over again. It’s silly and it’s untrue. It’s phony. Even the perception that we were pursuing him. We were evaluating him. I’ve said it all along, Alex Smith has been our quarterback. There’s no scenario, other than Alex choosing to sign with another team, that we would have considered him not as our quarterback. And don’t like to compare or talk about somebody else that’s on another team, but in this case it’s time to set the record straight.

“Alex Smith is our quarterback, was our quarterback, and had every intention of always bringing him back. There would be no circumstance that we would have let Alex Smith go. Now, were we out there seeing, evaluating if we could have them both? Heck yeah. And you evaluate that, you eliminate the possibility. And further evidence, we would not have given any player that was out there in free agency a sixth of our salary cap, and let six, or seven of our own guys go here. So, hopefully that sets the record straight and you don’t have to keep reporting the silliness and phoniness.”

OK.

So, we’re supposed to believe that when the 49ers brass, Harbaugh included, traveled across the country to watch Manning work out, that they were not pursuing Manning? When Manning took a physical for the club the 49ers were not pursuing Manning?

Harbaugh has been an ardent Smith supporter from Day 1. He remains that today. But the fact is the club didn’t truly ramp up efforts to sign Smith until after Manning had decided he would sign with the Denver Broncos. So, it seems a little phony on Harbaugh’s part to suggest the 49ers were not doing more than theur due diligence when it came to Manning.

“Like I said, there was interest and we evaluated it, pursued it, further evaluated it and there was conversations,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to go into all those personal conversations, but there was nothing said to Alex that was not said to Peyton Manning or in house here, on the record, off the record. Both those young men knew exactly what our intentions were. And I was very clear about that, that Alex Smith would be back here as our quarterback in 2012, if we could make that signing. We said the same thing to Alex as we said to Peyton.”

Smith, of course, made a free-agent visit to the Miami Dolphins during this time and was possibly going to visit the Seattle Seahawks. Does anyone really envision a scenario where Manning signed with the Niners and they also kept Smith?

“We’re not going into all the—it’s not your right, or anybody else’s right to know exactly what those implications would have been,” Harbaugh said. “But, you could understand the best fit for us was Alex Smith. And we weren’t going to give a sixth of our salary cap to anybody out there. We like six or seven of the guys we’ve got on this current team that much.”

What if Manning had wanted to join the 49ers?

“Like I said, there was no scenario where we weren’t going to have Alex Smith on this team if we could help it,” Harbaugh said. “Now, you don’t control all those factors, so I think that’s very clear, very concise. Hopefully everybody can understand that.”

So, what about Sopoaga throwing the ball after all?

“He throws a very long ball,” Harbaugh said. “And a very tight spiral too. Yes, throws as well as any big man I’ve ever watched. He’s amazing that way.”

That is believable. When it comes to the Manning and Smith stuff, I think we're splitting words here.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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