Before I was 49ers Fangirl, I was always a 49ers Fangirl. From Joe Montana to Jerry Rice to Steve Young to Ronnie Lott to John Taylor to Elvis Grbac (yes, Grbac. He went to Michigan.) to Patrick Willis to Justin Smith to what Aldon Smith could be to Colin Kaepernick to NaVorro Bowman, the red and gold have always been my team.
Yesterday, Bowman, one of the greats on that list, retired and he did it with the Niners, as a Niner, in Santa Clara. This is significant, as Bowman asked the 49ers to release him in 2017, after being benched and it was clear his days a starter with San Francisco were a thing of the past. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, then in their first years, granted his request.
“I never saw myself being second to anyone,” Bowman, who felt he needed more recovery time to prove he still had it, said. “…I feel like it wasn’t given to me. But there’s pressure, too, when you’re new and you move in and you want to start making those changes, too. I understand it’s a business.”
The “Fan Favorite” Bowman play will probably always be the “Pick at the ‘Stick.” It was a fitting way to shut down Candlestick Park on Monday Night Football with Bowman returning an interception for 89 yards and a TD as the 49ers headed to the playoffs. I may or may not have been jumping up and down and screaming, scaring my entire family.
The heart-wrenching Bowman play will be just a few weeks later during the NFC Championship game in Seattle. Bowman wrestled the ball from Jermaine Kearse at the goal line, before Kearse fell on Bowman’s knee, tearing his MCL and ACL, a brutal injury that kept him out the entire next season. And the refs say Bowman lost the ball, so Seattle kept possession.
“That one play,” Bowman said. “I always say, ‘Should I have let him score? Maybe I’d be playing 12 or 13 years, a six-time All Pro.’ I don’t know. I was giving everything for my team, so that’s what happens. That’s why they say it’s a 100-percent injury rate in this game. The fans recognize. And that’s why I play the game.”
Many 49ers fans and NFL fans believe the refs were mistaken. Those fans are correct, in my humble opinion, but it did lead to a rule change, in which officials can now use instant replay to review the recovery of a loose ball.
Bowman said he doesn’t see any linebacker duo that has been better than he and Patrick Willis were. And he’s probably right.
All around, that defensive line was special. No matter what went on off the field – and plenty did and it was pretty bad – on the field, Bowman, Willis, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Glen Dorsey, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks were pretty much unstoppable.
“We were special,” said Bowman. “We held each other accountable. Vic Fangio had a way of dealing with all of us. We kept him on his toes. We had some guys up front where you never know what they were going to do off of the field. But when it was time to play, we all locked in.”
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Bowman said he still keeps in touch with most of his line mates, including Aldon Smith and Willis, who he was going to see after leaving Levi’s Stadium yesterday afternoon.
It’s funny the things you miss and the things that bring back memories. As Bowman was in the 49ers’ huddle to close out practice yesterday, it was that football player smell that got him.
“They’re always funky, he said. “You remember that smell, you remember you smelling like that. I had on my clean, white shirt, but I still wanted to give them a hug and I still wanted to touch their pads and things like that. So I enjoyed it. And guys say, ‘You look like you can still play.’ I can. But I’m content with it, that I was able to be a Niner.”
As he left the media workroom with his wife and his three children, Bowman looked like a man content with his career, content with his life and ready for his next chapter. Thanks for the memories Bo. They were incredible.