SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the last five years, receiver Anquan Boldin has gotten to the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals, won one with the Baltimore Ravens, and, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers this season, is one victory away from a third visit to the NFL’s biggest stage.
Now that’s some impeccable zigzagging route running.
“I’m in a position where I could possibly compete for a championship again,” Boldin said Wednesday, during a break from preparations for Sunday’s NFC championship game at Seattle. “As a player, that’s something that you cherish, something that you play for. I’m blessed to be in this position.”
If he feels blessed, how about the 49ers? They got him from the Ravens for a sixth-round pick in last spring’s draft, surely a Harbaugh brother discount — Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh shipped him to younger brother Jim, coach of the 49ers — but not the first time Boldin had to pack his bags.
Retired quarterback Kurt Warner, who led Boldin and the rest of the Cardinals to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2008 season, said the 11-year veteran brings a contagious toughness not typically seen at receiver. He said as great as All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald was, “If I knew we needed a tough play to be made, I was looking for 81.”
Boldin, known for his stout durability and for playing his position with the aggressiveness of a sledgehammer-hitting safety, has left an impressive dent on the record books. He’s fourth among active NFL receivers with 63 catches in the postseason, behind Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne (92), Denver’s Wes Welker (75) and Baltimore’s Dallas Clark (64).
The hard-edged Boldin can be combustible on Sundays and doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind on the field.
“You know how most people would curse? Anquan doesn’t curse,” rookie receiver Quinton Patton said. “You know how some DBs will say anything, ‘I’ll hit you in the face,’ this and that. He’ll be like, ‘Coward! Come on, then!’ That’s his favorite word: coward. At the time I won’t be laughing because it’s intense. But afterward when I think about it I’ll be laughing because it’s like, ‘Did he really just call him a coward?’”
Boldin, who banged facemasks with a Carolina defender during an argument last Sunday, also showed composure when Harbaugh was flagged for stepping onto the field. He directed the coach back to the sideline.
“Anquan was telling me to stay off the field,” Harbaugh said after the game. “He said, ‘Coach, we can’t have that. Get off the field.’ And he was right.”
Boldin’s hands are hotter than his head. In the Carolina game, he had 8 catches for 136 yards, both game highs, and made the most of the fact defenses cannot double-team him the way they did when fellow receiver Michael Crabtree missed the first 11 games with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
Sparks are likely to fly when Boldin lines up against Seattle’s outspoken secondary, nicknamed the Legion of Boom.
“If that’s how [Boldin] competes and he starts to yap, we’ll deal with it,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said Wednesday. “You don’t have to head-butt him and do all that crazy stuff to him. Instead, you focus on slowing him down and keeping him covered. If you don’t want him in your face all day, don’t let him catch the ball.”
Said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas of Boldin: “I like that he’s a blue-collar guy. I respect him, but I’ll be ready. He tried to cut [block] me one time, so we’ll definitely meet each other again. That’s who he is. He makes me want to play harder.”
Todd Haley, Arizona’s offensive coordinator when the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl in the 2008 season, said Boldin had a tendency to look slow during the week, then turn on the turbo boost for games.
“He’s not fast enough during the week,” Haley said. “But when the lights come on, he’s got that little bit of extra juice and you can see what he’s doing. … The quarterbacks would be frustrated [during the week] because the timing was off. We’re taking what would be sacks in practice waiting for a route to open up. But in a game, all of a sudden he’s there on time.”
Said Warner, now an NFL Network analyst: “Anquan’s a guy that if you just simply look at his physical skill set, you can always say, ‘We can find somebody better.’ But once they’re gone you go, ‘What were we doing? That was so stupid. That guy was such a difference-maker.’”