SANTA CLARA – Anquan Boldin is like a hero from an Elmore Leonard novel, a modern-day cowboy.
On Thursday he marched through the locker room from the shower to his locker, head high, eyes forward, and said hello to no one.
He’s like a cowboy entering a saloon with the brim of his hat covering his eyes. He’d sit on a stool at the end of the bar. He wouldn’t order a drink but the bartender would serve him whiskey anyway.
In the locker room, Boldin sat on a mini-stool in front of his locker and laid a folded towel on the floor under his bare feet. To his left, 10 offensive linemen were shooting the breeze. Boldin never acknowledged them. He leaned forward on his stool and stared at his feet. They were wet. He took the corner of the towel and dried the skin between his toes. At this moment his universe extended to his toes and no farther.
Compare Boldin to Colin Kaepernick who walks through the locker room like the president, meeting with his constituents, smiling, laughing. Making sure everything is smooth.
Boldin is a loner who hardly smiles and doesn’t talk when he doesn’t have to. When you interview him, he stares at you blankly. He gives you no reaction while you ask a question, no look of encouragement or annoyance or understanding. Just a dead-fish stare revealing nothing. While you ask your question, you feel like you’re pleading with a loan shark, “Please, can I give you the money tomorrow? I promise I’ll have it tomorrow.” And he just stares at you.
He cocks his head to the right and leans toward you like he’s trying to show you his soul through his eyes. Do you understand who I am? Do you understand who you’re talking to?
He looks like death staring at you from the depths of his hooded cowl.
And then he lets you off the hook. His shoulders relax. His head eases back. He answers your question earnestly, thoughtfully, patiently.
But you know you saw something, an intense side, a scary side, you saw it. You get the feeling he reserves this scary side of his personality for his opponents.
In an Elmore Leonard novel, Boldin is the guy who always is a step ahead of his enemies, calm and poised for any situation and he gets the girl and the money at the end.
In football, Boldin is the ultimate pro, the kind of player a team needs to win a Super Bowl. He can make the do-or-die catch. That’s what he did with the Ravens in the playoffs last season. He was their best player when it counted.
“At times, it’s almost like he wills things to happen,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said about Anquan Boldin Thursday afternoon.
If the 49ers make it to the playoffs this season and Boldin is healthy, they have a puncher’s chance to go to the Super Bowl.
But if Boldin goes down, so do the 49ers’ Super Bowl chances.
Boldin is the only healthy wide receiver on the roster who scares opposing defenses. The 49ers rode him the first five weeks of the season and he has accounted for 78 percent of the 49ers wide receivers’ yards and 100 percent of their touchdowns. The 49ers have not developed any of their young receivers because they’re riding Boldin.
But this is the week to change that for a couple of reasons.
One, Boldin faces Patrick Peterson, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said Peterson will be covering Boldin most of the game. There is nowhere the 49ers can line up Boldin to avoid Peterson. Peterson will follow him.
Two, the 49ers will beat the Cardinals. The 49ers can afford to take the burden off Boldin’s shoulders.
The 49ers would have to tank it to lose to the Cardinals this Sunday. The Cardinals’ quarterback is Carson Palmer. You know about Palmer. He throws picks.
This season, he has thrown one pick every 20 pass attempts. And since the Cardinals’ running game stinks, Palmer has to throw, and that means he probably will hand the game to the 49ers sooner rather than later, just like Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub did last Sunday.
This is the week for the 49ers to throw the ball to anyone but Boldin. They don’t need Boldin to beat the Cardinals.
They need to call pass plays for the other receivers – Kyle Williams and Jon Baldwin. Call plays for the rookie tight end, Vance McDonald. Get the ball in their hands on short routes and build their confidence now so they can become big-play deep threats in the future.
Give Boldin a break. Don’t run this cowboy into the ground before the bye week.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.