SAN FRANCISCO A lot of athletes preach work ethic running, lifting, weight-room stuff. Bear Pascoe experienced an entirely different sort of sweat and grit, in Wranglers, boots and a 10-gallon hat.
The New York Giants tight end caught his first NFL touchdown pass Sunday in the NFC title game against some of his former 49ers teammates to tie the score 7-7. Now he gets to take his fantasy ride to the Super Bowl, but it didn't take long for Pascoe to talk glowingly of his roots.
Pascoe grew up in Tulare County on a cattle ranch. He would bound out of bed at dawn to work with livestock. On weekends, he would brand steers with the family P/5 logo five in the family and he roped calves at his Porterville home. He won a number of age-group roping championships in his teen years, including in Rancho Murieta. The ultimate prize came not in the form of a trophy or belt buckle but when he was handed the keys of a new Dodge pickup, never mind it was a year before he was able to drive it legally.
Pascoe still has the rig, on the ranch, and he had scores of family and friends in attendance at Candlestick Park, a select few in Giants blue amid a sea of 49ers red and gold.
"Had family from all over," Pascoe said in a jubilant Giants locker room. "I bought 13 tickets, and family got tickets. Must've been about 25 to 30 people. I know my parents are ecstatic. I know I sure am."
Pascoe played at Fresno State for coach Pat Hill. He had 85 receptions and eight touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons and was taken in the sixth round in the 2009 draft by the 49ers.
Pascoe thought he had the charmed life then, knowing full well that he would return to the ranch when his playing days were over. But Pascoe said he was surprised to be cut in training camp, with then-coach Mike Singletary suggesting he was too slow for the NFL game.
"It was rough hard to be cut because it was the first time I'd ever been cut from anything," Pascoe said. "I had to think about things. Do I want to play this game anymore? I decided I wanted to play some more and got a tryout with the Giants, was on the practice squad, and it's been a great ride."
Pascoe came into Sunday's game with 12 receptions for 136 yards, but he knew his time could come, even as a third-stringer.
"I had to be ready," Pascoe said. "I know Jake Ballard's our starter. I prepare with him, watch film with him, but you're always one play away from getting out there. I'm just glad I made a play to help us get going."
Pascoe got his football genes from his father, Sean, who played middle linebacker for Colorado State in the 1970s. Sean once absorbed the brunt of a power run from a man just about as stout as a steer in Earl Campbell, the Heisman Trophy winner for the Texas Longhorns in 1977.
As for the name Bear, which seems perfectly fitting for a rancher at heart, that goes to his mother, Julie. She has said that her 9 1/2-pound baby boy was like trying to handle, well, a bear.
Football is Pascoe's life now, but not his dying passion. That's ranch work, and he'll return someday to Porterville, where the family owns or leases about 5,000 acres.
"It's not for everyone," he said. "You've got to love it to do it, and I sure do. It's a different way of life. Lots of people don't understand how hard it is and how rewarding. Since I was 7 or 8, I was working with calves, and as soon as I was old enough to understand it, I was roping steers and catching them."
On Sunday, he made his biggest leather catch yet.