When hall-of-fame linebacker Mike Singletary took the head-coaching job of the San Francisco 49ers last year, he made one thing clear: he was looking for winners.
“I want winners. I want people that want to win,” Singletary said.
When All-American Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree surprisingly fell to 10th to San Francisco in the 2009 NFL draft, he made one thing clear too; he was looking to get paid like the guys taken ahead of him.
That resulted in a six-month holdout that lasted through training camp, through the preseason and a quarter of the way into the games that seriously mattered.
Despite showy theatrics such as sending tight end Vernon Davis to the showers in the middle of a game against the Seattle Seahawks and dropping his pants during a halftime speech, Samurai Mike clearly meant business. After taking charge during San Francisco’s bye week in 2008, he led the team to five victories in its last seven games after it started 2-7.
Clearly the players were buying what Singletary was selling; a team-first philosophy that said no one was bigger than the collective. The Niners started 2009 picking up right where they left off last season, cruising out to a 3-1 record with the one blemish coming on a miracle play on the game’s final snap against 7-1 Minnesota.
As Coach Singletary would say, the 49ers were going out and hitting people in the mouth.
Meanwhile, Crabtree watched all of this from a Lay-Z-Boy. His agent, Eugene Parker, and the team were unable to reach a contract agreement that each side saw fit. Crabtree slammed his foot down so hard that he threatened to sit out the entire season and re-enter the draft next April.
At least that’s what the Crabtree camp wanted to scare San Francisco into thinking.
San Francisco didn’t flinch. The sides had until the Nov. 17 deadline for rookies to sign with a team or go back in the draft next year.
The wideout signed his name on the paper on Oct. 7 for the same figures that were offered to him from the start, half a year ago. The 49ers coaching staff promptly inserted Crabtree into the starting lineup.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to their first divisional title in more than a decade: opponents started swinging back. San Francisco has lost four straight since that promising start a month ago, most recently helping a 1-6 Tennessee Titans team find it’s way after starting the season with six straight Ls.
The Red and Gold suddenly looks like it’s the team trying to find its identity.
All this has started since Crabtree became an official 49er. It’s not like he hasn’t produced anything. Five catches for 56 yards is solid for a receiver in his first game, especially for one who hasn’t played or practiced with the team in months. Nine catches and 111 yards aren’t too disappointing on a run-first team.
Crabtree’s debut coincided with the return of the infamous Alex Smith, a former No. 1-overall pick with a career considered stuck in reverse. But Smith hasn’t been the problem; he owns an 83.3 rating with a 63.6 completion percentage.
Although he has thrown only one more touchdown than interception, the offense has opened up since he took the job from Shaun Hill.
Perhaps the boys aren’t having it anymore. Players usually don’t take it lightly when guys that miss organized team activities and all of camp, then get vaulted to the top of the depth chart.
Brett Favre got preferential treatment in Minnesota, but he’s still Brett Favre. And he’s the hero that snatched that victory back from the 49ers earlier in the season, silencing any remaining doubters.
Players really don’t like it when their head coach switches gears on them. After Singletary left Davis’ butt looking like the bottom of his shoe during that game last season, he said he would not tolerate players that think it’s about them when it’s about the team.
“It was something that I told everybody at the very beginning of the week,” he said. “We cannot make decisions that cost the team. And then come off the sideline and it's nonchalant. No. You know what? This is how I believe, OK? I'm from the old school.”
Singletary even went so far as to say that he’d rather play 10 men and face penalties until he’s forced to something else rather than play 11 when the eleventh man is not buying in.
When Crabtree was in the midst of his holdout, Singletary expressed his desire to have the rookie join the team.
"Any guy that can play and help us win, I would never say, 'No, we don't need him,'" Singletary said. "We need all the good football players we can get," according to ESPNDallas.com .
Weeks before making that statement, Singletary said that he was only concerned about the players he has available right now.
It’s heinous to say that the Bay Bombers’ downward spiral falls on the shoulders of one man, but facts are facts: things have not been right in Ninerland since a certain diva receiver finally took the fair-market-value contract offered him and started suiting up.
A team doesn’t lose four straight flukes. There is something going on internally that has not been brought to light.
Fellow receiver Josh Morgan said he’s excited to add another weapon to the offense in Crabtree, but other players have been mum on the subject.
One thing is clear: no one likes a me-first player, and no one dislikes a me-first player more than Samurai Mike.
“Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can't do it.”