Patrick Willis Jersey

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SANTA CLARA – The journey for linebacker Dre Greenlaw to arrive with the 49ers on Thursday started at 6:15 a.m.

He showed up 3 ½ hours early for his flight to the Bay Area.

“I’m just ready to get started,” Greenlaw said after reporting to the team’s headquarters. “They’re going to give me an opportunity to prove myself and that’s all I really need.”

It was a long day of travel, but the real journey started long before his arrival at the airport. Greenlaw, who describes himself as an orphan, grew up in group homes and foster care. When he began playing football, one of his first heroes was former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, he said.

“I saw his story,” said Greenlaw, the 49ers’ fifth-round draft pick from Arkansas. “I was young at the time. I really wasn’t around a lot of TV when I was real young. In the group home, they didn’t allow us to watch TV. And even when I lived in the shelter and I lived with my foster parents, I didn’t watch a lot of TV.

“I knew the story about Patrick Willis and his brother and his life situation and what he went through.”

Willis grew up in poverty and in an abusive household in Tennessee. Willis served as the father figure for his siblings. Willis’ younger brother, Detris, drowned in 2006 at the age of 17. Willis was a seven-time Pro Bowl player in his eight-year NFL career.

Greenlaw’s own story is inspiring. He said he would not change the difficulties he faced while growing up because of how it shaped him to be the person he is today. He served as a team captain at Arkansas after being star Fayetteville (Ark.) High.

“It’s a story not a lot of people can say that they went through and made it out of,” Greenlaw said. “There’s a lot of kids in foster homes that may not have gotten the same opportunity, but if they just hear somebody else’s story and they see somebody has been through something as similar to them, maybe they get the idea and hope that they can do it, too, which they can.

“I’m grateful and thankful for what I been through. It made me who I am today.”

Tom Rathman Jersey

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“If you have the ball in your hands, you’re not only carrying yourself and your family, but the whole organization. The entire franchise is in your hands.” – Tom Rathman

INDIANAPOLIS — Twice a week he requires every last one of the Indianapolis Colts’ skill position players to shuffle into a room and hear him preach. The meetings are passionate and purposeful. They are essential.

“Other than his family,” one running back says, “it’s like the most important thing in the world to him. It’s family No. 1, ball security No. 2.”

Tom Rathman would love that statement – “That’s what wins games,” he points out. He doesn’t take the topic lightly; his players won’t, either. On Tuesdays, the team’s venerable running backs coach pores through every single offensive snap from Sunday’s game, culling images of good ball security and bad, showing them on screen for everyone in the room to see. Did you squeeze it on the five points – fingertips, palm, forearm, bicep, ribcage?

Ronnie Lott Jersey

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During his 12 years in the NFL, during which he won two Super Bowls with the 49ers and three with the Cowboys, Charles Haley was one of the greatest pass rushers in league history.

He had 100½ sacks and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. Only Tom Brady, with six, has earned more Super Bowl rings as a player.
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Roger Craig Jersey

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Opponents knew him for his punishing running style. Those close to him know him for his grace.

You likely know Roger Craig as the dual-threat running back who starred on the 49ers’ three Super Bowl-winning teams throughout the 1980s. Craig was named to the Pro Bowl four times during an accomplished 11-year NFL career that has teetered on Hall-of-Fame status. He never missed the playoffs. In 1985, he became the first of two players (the other is Marshall Faulk) in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard rushing, 1,000-yard receiving season. Three years later, Craig won the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award.

Despite these accomplishments, perhaps the most telling chapter of his football career preceded his 49ers tenure.

Prior to his senior year at Nebraska, Craig, an All-Big 8 running back during his junior year, switched to fullback because that’s what his coaches asked of him. He feared the position change would hurt his NFL draft stock. If anything, it did the opposite.

Craig’s transition to a less-glamorous role impressed then-49ers assistant coach Jim Gruden, father of current Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Jim Gruden advised then-49ers head coach Bill Walsh to draft Craig. Walsh listened, selecting Craig with the No. 49 overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.

Frank Gore Jersey

Today is Frank Gore’s 36 birthday. The former San Francisco 49ers legend is the only player in football history to play in the NFL after tearing both ACLs before he was a pro.

To this day, he still comes back to the Bay Area and will host events and autograph sessions for the community. One of the best running backs of all-time is somehow a better person. Back in March he met up with fans and was hugging them, taking pictures, genuinely enjoying himself. That type of person is rare these days. Gore is refreshing.

Gore said he is going to retire a 49er, and that’s only right. That will happen one of these decades when he can no longer play. Gore might be the only person in history to outrun Father Time. He’s special. He always has been. From ESPN’s Field Yates:

NFL-record 14 straight seasons with 600+ rushing yards
NFL-record 14 straight seasons with 125+ rushes
Started 195 of his last 196 games.

That isn’t normal.

You know a player is next level when you ask a question, and you know there’s a strong possibility of getting over 20 different answers. So I ask, what’s your favorite play from Gore? His highlight tape is 13 minutes long. Again, not normal:

Gore has had some incredible performances. Whether it was the memorable game he had against the St. Louis Rams in 2007 after his mom, Liz passed away, or against the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 when he ran for a pair of 79-plus yard touchdowns. Only Barry Sanders had done that to date. Gore persevered through a lot, both on and off the field. The last two games of his 49ers career, Gore ran for 158 and 144 yards. Even the lasting image he left for us was exceptional.

Gore has the best balance I’ve ever seen for a running back. Constantly bouncing off of defenders, and running for 20 more yards. It wasn’t like this happened a couple of times a season. It happened a couple of times a game. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like Gore again.

So let’s hear it, what’s your most memorable Frank Gore play?

Deion Sanders Jersey

Shilo Sanders

COLUMBIA — They wanted the player. Shilo Sanders picked off five passes and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior for state champion Trinity Christian High School in Cedar Hill, Texas.

Getting the player’s father, Deion Sanders, as a promotional tool for South Carolina and the Gamecocks’ football program?

Call it a signing bonus.

“I feel like it’s a very, very good fit for Shilo. I love all of it,” Sanders, a pro football Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst, said in a video last week. “To come here and see everything, how it all comes together … unbelievable, man. This is a first-class school.”

The elder Sanders was back in Columbia last week to drop off Shilo for USC’s “Maymester,” a three-week academic session that crams at least one three-hour course into 15 days. Shilo Sanders joined fellow defensive backs Jammie Robinson and Cam Smith as May enrollees, a boon for USC as all can get used to the grind of class, nutrition regimen, conditioning and working out with their teammates before fall camp arrives.

The younger Sanders was a big get for the Gamecocks, who due to injury cycled through nearly every defensive back on the roster last season. The Under Armour All-American is part of a young and talented group for 2019. Like his dad, Shilo has expressed an interest in playing college baseball, too.

Yet until he gets on the field and makes a big play, he’ll probably be tagged as “Deion’s kid,” much as Jaycee Horn was “Joe Horn’s son” until he earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 2018. Of course Shilo will want to make his own name as soon as possible, but USC can reap the benefits of his famous father for at least the next four years.

“He was wonderful in the recruiting process as a father, as far as telling me, ‘You need to recruit my son, not me,’” coach Will Muschamp said. “To have a guy that’s probably the best ever at the position … to entrust his son with us says an awful lot about the confidence he has in this coaching staff, I can tell you that.”

Deion is no stranger to Columbia or Williams-Brice Stadium. He visited twice during the 1980s when played at Florida State.

Already fully morphed into the flashy, glitzy star known as “Neon” and “Prime Time,” Sanders was part of three FSU routs of the Gamecocks, including a 59-0 shellacking in 1988. He went on to become perhaps the best cornerback in NFL history, and made more history in 1992 when he became the only man to dress for an NFL game and Major League Baseball game in the same day. He played for the Atlanta Falcons that day, but did not get into the Atlanta Braves’ playoff game that night.

He is still the only man to ever play in a Super Bowl (two rings) and a World Series (one appearance). And he hasn’t stopped being Deion.

As soon as Shilo announced, the biggest question was how many games would Deion attend, possibly hanging out with recruits on the sideline as a USC football ambassador. The answer is probably slim to none.

“I know he’s got a busy schedule,” Muschamp said. “He’s still coaching high school football in Dallas, and works on NFL Network on Sunday and Saturday nights and is busy with some things as well on the West Coast.”

But the Gamecocks do head to Texas every other year (this year’s game at Texas A&M is Nov. 16) and College Station is a short drive from Dallas. Plus, USC was able to get in the door with Shilo in the first place because of Deion’s relationship with defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson.

“T-Rob, man, I got a confidence level with T-Rob,” Deion Sanders said. “I’m a high school coach, and one of my dearest friends, coach (Kevin) Mathis, is a dear friend of T-Rob’s, and we wanted him to go somewhere where it’s going to be that same level of coaching, that same excitement, the passion, and somebody that’s going to keep their foot on his throat and challenge him to do the right thing.”

Muschamp’s program is very NFL-centric in its approach and that’s familiar and attractive to NFL progenies. Shilo is in Columbia, and while Deion may not be able to appear as often as everyone would like, Deion’s endorsement carries an awful lot.

“Shilo could have gone to several places. Coach Champ, man, I got love for him. Followed his career, followed his journey, I like what he brings to the table as a head coach, the structured organization and the character values,” Deion said. “It’s a good spot. I’m overwhelmed, I’m happy, I’m elated, I can’t wait to see this journey start.”

Joe Montana Jersey

Joe Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, will be in Minnesota this coming weekend for an autograph session at a Twin Cities mall.

Montana will be at the Fan HQ store at Ridgedale Mall in Plymouth from noon until 1 p.m., and there’s no doubt the Hall of Fame quarterback will draw a crowd.

Montana, also known as The Comeback Kid and Joe Cool, is a four-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers and three-time Super Bowl MVP. He went to eight Pro Bowls and won back-to-back NFL MVP awards in 1989 and 1990.

In short, Montana is a legend. And very expensive.

For $699 (sold out, apparently), Montana will throw you a pass with an authentic NFL football and sign it afterward, also inscribing “Nice catch.” Then he’ll take a photo with you and the ball.

Check out the prices for other types of autographs and photos.

$189 basic autograph: Includes an autograph on a photo (up to 16×20), mini helmet, card, small figure/bobblehead, or paper item 16×20 inches or under.

$189 photo with Montana: Maximum of 4 people (plus Joe) in one photo. No autograph.
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$209 VIP basic autograph: Same as the basic autograph but you get a pass to the front of the line (only 15 available).

$229 deluxe autograph: Includes an autograph on a full size helmet, jersey, football, equipment, canvas print, photos larger than 16×20.

$249 VIP deluxe autograph: Same as the deluxe autograph but gets you a pass to the front of the line (only 15 available).

$399 premium autograph: Includes an autograph on a 1981 Topps rookie card, stadium seat/seatback, or Super Bowl trophy

$399 basic autograph/photo combo: Includes a basic autograph, posed photo with Joe (max of 4 people plus Joe), and a pass to the front of the line.

$439 deluxe autograph/photo combo: Includes a deluxe autograph, posed photo with Joe (max of 4 people plus Joe), and a pass to the front of the line.

Bizarre restrictions on what Montana will write

What we found pretty amusing is some of the restrictions being put in place on what Montana will write if you pay for a personalized inscription.

You first have to buy an autograph ticket and then for an extra $129, he’ll add an inscription as long as it’s not any longer than FOUR words (so, more than $30 per word) AND the inscription cannot mention any “career accomplishments.”

So, for example, “To Dan, SB MVP” would not be allowed, but “To Dan – Best Wishes” would be acceptable.

What’s more, he also won’t write either of the following phrases: “I left my heart in San Francisco,” or “Teamwork makes champions.”

Pre-approved inscriptions, as seen below, cost $109 to $269.

$109 - "HOF '00"
$109 - "4X SB CHAMP"
$109 - "3X SB MVP"
$109 - "2X SB MVP"
$149 - "1977 NATIONAL CHAMPS"
$269 - SB XVI - XIX - XXIV MVP" 

Montana also will not sign any original artwork or lithographs, but the event rules don’t say anything about Montana refusing to sign old Fruit of the Loom underwear or Sketchers shoes, products he’s endorsed over the years.

Y.A. Tittle Jersey

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Now that the Denver Broncos officially have traded for quarterback Joe Flacco, I can officially say the first guy I thought of was the late Y.A. Tittle.

Not John Elway nor Vic Fangio.

Nor Joe Montana.

Tittle, who passed away in 2017, was the first person who entered my mind, and my hope then and now was that this trade works out like that one.

Some might bring up Montana, but that is not a legit comparison.

San Francisco had committed to Steve Young, and it was widely felt that Montana had something left in the tank.

But the real parallel is Flacco and Y.A.Tittle.

Like Flacco, Tittle played for a team that chose to move on at the quarterback position. At that time, the 34-year-old’s Tittle’s age was a major concern. Elway said at his introductory press conference that he believes Flacco is “just really coming into his prime.” It’s safe to say the San Francisco 49ers didn’t feel the same way about Tittle.

But both Tittle and Flacco had enormous chips on their shoulders after being traded. Tittle still had more to prove — and Flacco certainly does, as well. Elway likes that a lot about Flacco, and so should we.

Since many modern fans are wondering who the heck Y. A. Tittle was, let’s take a look back.

He was a first-round draft choice —like Flacco — and played two years in the All-America Football Conference for Baltimore, coincidentally, before joining the San Francisco 49ers, for whom he played from 1951-60.

Ten years, similar to Flacco’s 11 years in Baltimore.

But Tittle was considered washed up at 34, and in 1961 the 49ers traded him to the New York Giants for a frankly mediocre guard named Lou Cordileone.

In fact, an outraged Tittle said, “Who the heck is Lou Cordileone?”

All Tittle did in his next four years with the Giants was lead them to three straight NFL title games, make the Pro Bowl three times and be named NFL Most Valuable Player in 1963.

Tittle was named a first-team All-Pro in 1961, 1962 and 1963.

He was the subject of one of the most iconic football photos of all time, kneeling on the field with his helmet off and a bloodied head in a great title game matchup with Chicago.

Meanwhile, back to the moment, Flacco comes to Denver as a Super Bowl champion with a 10-5 record in the playoffs.

Flacco has a record seven road playoff wins, which is more than the Broncos have as a franchise.

He also brings the same confidence and choppiness to the Broncos that Tittle brought to the Giants in 1961.

Y. A. Tittle played well enough in his new city to be selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. There is no way I am trying to set a bar that high for Joe Flacco, but I could not shake the other comparisons from the moment the trade was first mentioned.

With a solid team and something to prove on the part of a new quarterback — who has rightly singled out winning as the primary goal — there is plenty of room for positive comparisons in the Mile High City.

Steve Young Jersey

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Two decades after a series of concussions cut short his Hall of Fame career, 49ers legend Steve Young told an audience at Stanford University on Saturday that if there’s ever a word on the tip of his tongue he can’t remember, his wife will joke, “Here we go — this is it.”

The neurologists, physical trainers, athletes and others attending Young’s talk at a summit on concussions in sports chuckled at the anecdote. But Young said, “I don’t laugh. I think, ‘Oh my gosh — is this the beginning of the end?’”

Young described the symptoms he has experienced since his career ended as mild. But he knows that makes him fortunate among former NFL players, many of whom have struggled with brain damage linked to the head trauma they sustained over decades in football. And Young says he worries that more severe effects from all those blows to the head could pop up for him as well some day.

“That’s the nefarious nature of head injuries and the brain,” Young said.

More than 150 people attended the Stanford Sports Concussion Summit, which also included talks from renown researchers and, in Stanford Athletics’ “Hall of Champions,” demonstrations of the latest technology to diagnose and treat concussions and mild traumatic brain injuries in athletes, juxtaposed with trophies from Rose Bowls and national titles.

While football at large takes concussions far more seriously today than when Young entered the NFL in the 1980s, he noted that treating those injuries still puts doctors at odds with players, who usually don’t want to be kept off the field, and coaches who feel the same way about their stars. That tension will exist until there is a “sea change” in football and sports more broadly, he said.

“Everyone’s super serious about it,” Young said. “But it’s still a doctor on the sideline, under incredible pressure, trying to figure out whether someone’s OK or not. That’s a tough spot to be in.”

Young spoke as part of a panel discussion that included Gary Steinberg, Stanford’s chairman of neurosurgery and the 49ers’ team neurosurgeon during the 1990s, and William Maloney, a Stanford professor of orthopedic surgery and team physician for the 49ers and the Golden State Warriors.

Much of the discussion centered on the difficulty of accurately diagnosing concussions — particularly in the middle of a game, when doctors have limited time to examine a player and the push to get him or her back into the action is most urgent.

Joe Staley Jersey

Offensive tackle Joe Staley plays in the 49ers’ game against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz.

Joe Staley could have stayed in sunny San Diego, continue his normal offseason workout routine that includes one-on-one yoga sessions and keep tabs on his 49ers teammates from afar.

That’s what many notable NFL players do this time of year, when conditioning programs are voluntary. Tom Brady, Jadeveon Clowney, Jalen Ramsey, Frank Clark and others are staying away from their teams while the first phase of the offseason program begins.

But not Staley, who has plenty of reasons to remain away from the club and enjoy his wife and two young daughters. The six-time Pro Bowl tackle is the longest-tenured player on the team, perhaps the most respected voice in the locker room and the 49ers’ only starter remaining from Super Bowl XLVII. He could have stayed home and no one in Santa Clara would have batted an eye.

“I just love being around everybody,” Staley said this week. “I don’t know – I’d much rather be here than somewhere else. For me, too, I need the structure. I’m used to the structure. …. Not to say that I can’t manage my time away from here when I’m not, because I do when I’m down in San Diego. I just enjoy being around the guys. It was never a thought for me to be anywhere else.”

Staley, 34, could have stayed away because he might be looking to extend his contract (like Clark and Clowney, who are looking for long-term deals after being given the franchise tag).

Staley is entering the final year of his six-year deal he signed in 2014, though he’s undecided if he wants to continue playing beyond 2019 and into his late 30s. He hasn’t had any discussions with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan or general manager John Lynch about his future beyond the coming season. He’s slated to earn nearly $11 million this season, ranking 16th among left tackles, according to Overthecap.com.

“But I’ve made it very clear to everybody that I want to play as long as I can,” Staley said. “I still love the game, still feel like I can play at a high level. Still feel like I’m valued on the football team. I know it’s my last year under contract, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just going to go out there and try and do everything I can to help us win games with this team.”

One of the daunting tasks awaiting San Francisco is finding Staley’s eventual replacement. It could be last year’s first-round draft pick, Mike McGlinchey, who started all 16 games at right tackle.

Staley and McGlinchey have become fast friends, of course, and Staley had no problem ribbing his “little brother” for not spending more time working out with him in San Diego this offseason. McGlinchey during his visit with Staley instead opted to work out at EXOS in Carlsbad, where he’s spent time with his Notre Dame teammate and 2018 All-Pro Quenton Nelson, as well as Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan.

“So I don’t know if there’s something in the relationship that needs mending. Maybe (McGlinchey) just moved on,” Staley cracked. “He’s more of a guy that kind of likes to live the spotlight life. Who I train with down there, I’ve been training with for like four or five years and it’s just me and him. It’s not the glitz and glam of EXOS.”

Staley’s session with reporters Wednesday was part education and part stand-up comedy routine. Staley confirmed the front office sought his opinion of pass rusher Dee Ford before San Francisco acquired him in a trade with the Chiefs for a 2020 second-round draft pick. Ford got the best of Staley for a sack during the lopsided first half in Kansas City last September, using his quick first step that Lynch said is the fastest in the NFL.

“That’s a correct statement,” Staley said. “I think just the athleticism, the speed, he’s got a really unique ability to really time up the cadence. … I was 100 percent certain that he was offsides (on the sack), it was that fast. Going back on the film, he just timed it up super (well). He was right on it.”

When Staley was asked if the front office looked for his opinion on other pass rushers, the sarcastic comedy routine began.

“So I gave a detailed scouting report of about 20 different pass rushers and inside three techniques this year,” he deadpanned. “Strengths, weaknesses, broke down their film, best games, worst games, I went out to where they were this offseason and worked out with them. Put them through the ringer and just trying to break them down, who’s really about football, who’s not. It was an exhausting offseason for me. I think, we were really able to land Dee Ford out of the whole process.”

None of that was true, of course. And surely teammates needing a laugh during the arduous conditioning program will be glad Staley decided to show up when he didn’t have to.