“I don’t really look at myself as a receiver. Never have. Never will.”
It’s not what you’d expect to hear from someone who’s been an NFL starter at that position since 2003 and certainly not from a player on the cusp of reaching 1,000 career catches.
Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Terrell Owens. Those are the type of wide receivers in the 1,000-catch club, which has just 12 members. The 49ers’ Anquan Boldin needs one catch Sunday against the Detroit Lions to become the 13th.
Boldin said quadruple-digit catches never was a goal, that he barely has paid attention to the mark the past week and he’s decidedly unconcerned about statistics.
Still, there likely will be a nice bit of symmetry to Boldin’s career Sunday: Both his first and 1,000th reception could come at Ford Field in Detroit. Catch No. 1 occurred during his rookie season on a third-and-two pass from then-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake in a game against the Steve Mariucci-led Lions.
“Probably about 15 yards,” Boldin recalled.
Actually, the play gained 20 yards and was the first of Boldin’s 10 catches that day. He finished with 217 receiving yards and two touchdowns, one a 71-yard score.
“From the very beginning, he was competitive,” said 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, Arizona’s quarterbacks coach at the time. “We knew what his 40 (yard dash) time was, but it never seems like he plays to that. He would get open and catch the ball and make plays.”
No, Boldin wasn’t fast even as a 23-year-old rookie, and maybe that’s why he’s never seen himself as a receiver. A wideout’s game, after all, is built on speed and finesse. Boldin is epitomized by power and desire.
“He almost trains the way a boxer trains in terms of his upper body, in terms of his willingness to turn every game into a 12-round battle,” Chryst said.
Said fellow receiver Torrey Smith: “I feel like you could put him at D-line and he’d be successful. Anquan can play ball. They don’t make them like Anquan. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to play with him and consider him family.”
Boldin’s shuffling stride was viewed as a weakness when he went through the draft process in 2003, but it may have extended his career.
When a speedy receiver slows down, he loses the very trait that made him successful. Boldin never had speed in the first place, forcing him to learn technique and precision. Those skills, along with his strength and drive, have translated into one Offensive Rookie of the Year award, three Pro Bowls and a 13-year career.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was an assistant coach in Arizona while Boldin was there, and Detroit coach Jim Caldwell was Boldin’s offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens. Neither will let any young Lions defensive backs be lulled into thinking the slow-footed 35-year-old opposite them is a pushover.
“There’s a special kind of respect for that guy,” Caldwell said. “And we make sure our guys know exactly what they’re up against when you line up across from him.”
Boldin has finished the last two seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards. This year, however, he missed two games because of a hamstring injury and is on pace for 806 yards. He’s also scheduled to be a free agent in March.
Boldin said his goal upon entering the NFL was not to catch 1,000 passes but to play 10 seasons.
Does he want to play a 14th and, beyond that, is the man who appeared in Super Bowls with Arizona and Baltimore interested in returning to a 49ers team that will be very much in rebuilding mode next season?
“Definitely,” he said. “I like it here. I like the people here. The organization has been good to me. There’s a lot of people, a lot of relationships that I’ve built in this community. When the time does come, it will just be hard to say goodbye to.”