Anquan Boldin and his wife, Dionne, couldn’t decipher the slew of vague text messages that appeared on her phone when they landed in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2013.
“Congratulations,” one read.
“Are you happy?” asked another.
They went on and on.
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A few minutes later, when they were in the terminal, the mystery was revealed. During the eight-hour flight from the United States, Boldin was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick.
Boldin, of course, knew the Ravens were struggling to find a way to fit his contract under their salary cap. But a trade?
“I had no clue about any of that,” Boldin said Saturday. “It was a shock.”
This past week has been the farewell tour he never had.
When Boldin returned from his goodwill mission to West Africa, he immediately took off to the Bay Area. He spent three years in Baltimore, was a huge part of the team’s 2012 Super Bowl run just one month earlier – he had four postseason touchdowns and made a critical, third-down catch against the 49ers in the Super Bowl – but hadn’t been back until this week.
Before Thursday’s game in Baltimore, Boldin met up with former teammates, including Torrey Smith, one of the young receivers he mentored.
On Friday, a day off for the 49ers, Boldin and his family returned to their former neighborhood and had a barbecue with the residents.
“I hadn’t seen them in a while,” he said. “My son hadn’t seen his friends in over a year. So it was good to do that.”
On Saturday, Boldin was back at his familiar practice facility, exchanging greetings with the staff and assistants he had seen each day before he was unceremoniously dealt. Even Boldin’s Super Bowl ring was shipped to him because he didn’t attend the ring ceremony.
“We tried like crazy to keep Anquan,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That was something that people don’t realize – we fought like crazy. But we were fighting against a number. Sometimes, they’re not as pliable as you’d like them to be, and that really was our issue on that one.”
Boldin, meanwhile, said he’s had a year to digest and reconcile the transaction, and he said he now considers it merely business. Besides, he said, he was dealt to a winning team.
“If you do get traded, you don’t want to be traded to a team that doesn’t have a chance,” he said.
Boldin was a big part of the 49ers’ winning ways last year.
He finished with more receiving yards – 1,179 – than he’d had since 2006, when he was a member of the Kurt Warner-led Arizona Cardinals. Boldin caught seven touchdown passes. The 49ers’ other wide receivers combined for one. After the season, the team’s coaches voted him their MVP.
One reason he won the award, coach Jim Harbaugh said, is because Boldin is “the most special practice player I’ve ever seen.”
“None better than him,” he said. “Just the way he competes to make the tough catch in practice, in games.”
That attribute was on display Saturday.
Boldin may have been all handshakes and smiles as he walked through the Ravens’ facility in the morning. On the practice field that afternoon, however, he was battling Baltimore’s defensive backs for six catches, most of them across the middle.
After a short reception on a crossing route, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, whom the Ravens added last year, gave him a hard shot after the play.
Boldin quickly turned around to face the linebacker, drawing an awed chorus of “Q!” – his nickname – from Ravens defenders on the sideline.
It was as though he had never left.