Maiocco to Barber to New Guy

Wow, do we even have time for introductions? Kickoff in Seattle is 102 hours away and I’m arriving, in effect, as a rookie who missed training camp.

Before tracking down a rumor that the Seahawks are on the verge of signing R.C. Owens, though, it’s probably wise to let you know who I am.

Fortunately, many of us met during the preseason. But for those of you who never saw this, here goes: My name is Eric Branch, I’m the new 49ers beat writer at the Press Democrat and you can follow me at

I’ve worked at the PD since 2006, but I’ve been unwittingly training for this job since, as a 7-year-old with a bowl haircut, impossibly snug shorts and zero soul, I practiced Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s Funky Chicken Dance in our family room.

I’ve loved the NFL since Brent Musburger first told me I was looking live at some exotic locale like East Rutherford, N.J. and I first learned, from Pat Summerall, that 60 Minutes was coming up next except on the West Coast. I’ll spare you the dream-job stuff, but it’s fair to say I’m excited to get started.

I’m also fully aware that the bar has been set high.

If Matt Maiocco was Joe Montana in this role, Phil Barber did a neat impression of Steve Young during his brief tenure. Phil is a brilliant NFL writer, but he’s an even better person. And his reasons for stepping down give you an insight into just what type of person he is. At the risk of sounding trite, it’s an honor to follow Phil on this beat.

It’s also a privilege to follow in a long line of other Pro Bowlers who have had this job.

It started with Ralph Leef, who covered the team from 1972-1989. In his final days on the beat, prior to Super Bowl XXIII, Ralph broke the story that Bill Walsh was retiring. That was kind of a big scoop.

After Leef came more heavyweights: Mike Silver (Sports Illustrated, Yahoo!), Mark Fainaru-Wada (ESPN and Mr. BALCO), Brian Murphy (KNBR), Maiocco and Barber.

Not a bust in the bunch.

As for myself, I arrive, like Brian Murphy, with no previous NFL beat-writing experience. But I will bring passion and dedication. And I solemnly pledge to be driven by an all-consuming fear to not be the only screw-up to have this job.

As a longtime follower of this blog, I know there has been some concern about the turnover around here.

I understand. And I expect to hang out for a long time. My family (wife and two young daughters) will be moving from Santa Rosa to as close to Santa Clara as my bank account will allow. The great news is we already found a place my wife says is perfect — granite countertops, cathedral ceilings, adorable little breakfast nook — near Sparks, Nev.

OK, it’s time to get to work. I’ve got enough to keep me busy until early July.

My plan is to follow the advice Mike Silver offered when he e-mailed me in response to a question I’d asked.

Mike encouraged me to go kick some, well, he told me to do a good job.

I’ll do my best.