We could all learn a lesson from Alex Boone.
It was April 25th, 2009 - NFL Draft weekend. Boone sat with a bustling crowd of family at his Cleveland, Ohio home. Like hundreds of other hopeful college prospects across the country, he was waiting for his name to be called at the podium, praying for the prestigious opportunity to play football at its highest level.
Round one passed. Then round two. The phone never rang.
The next day, Boone watched the rest of the draft with only a few family members.
Round three passed. Then round four and five. Then six and seven. The phone never rang.
Boone was a standout offensive tackle for the Ohio State Buckeyes, twice being named to the All-Big Ten Conference team. Before his senior year, Boone was projected to go as high as the first round of the draft. At 6-foot-8 and 330-pounds, his stature was almost as big as his potential. But it was his off-the-field conduct that attracted the most criticism.
Boone's biggest enemy was not a 300-pound defensive end. It was a 2-liter liquor bottle.
In April of 2006, Boone was convicted of driving under the influence. Three years later, at a Super Bowl party in Orange County, California, Boone was shot twice with a Taser before being apprehended by police for allegedly jumping on car hoods and attempting to smash the window of a truck. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit. The next morning, he couldn't remember a thing.
Boone battled alcohol abuse from the time he started drinking in eighth grade through his senior year of college. With his NFL dreams on the line, Boone stood at a crossroad and had to make a choice: drink away a golden opportunity or make a significant lifestyle change. Boone chose to put the bottle down.
After going undrafted in 2009, Boone signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent and spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad.
"I talked to [former head coach Mike] Singletary about it, and he said ‘I want you to come back, I want you to be bigger, I want you to be leaner, and I want you to be better than you were,' " reflected Boone. "I told him ‘okay,' and I went home. I worked out six days a week, and I really just rededicated myself to football."
Boone spent that offseason training under the tutelage of former NFL Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley. The hard work paid off as Boone was promoted to a backup tackle position that season. Then, in December of 2011, Boone received a 4-year contract extension to remain with the 49ers.
It's a beautiful thing when dreams are realized - even more so when they are achieved through great adversity. Boone's bottled demons challenged him for years, and he may very well have perished to them. But they were defeated - and not through brute strength from muscle-bound arms, but with the mental fortitude of a matured mind.
This year, in his fourth season, Boone was named the team's starting right guard.
"I am a true NFL player. I know that nothing is given to you," said Boone, this past August. "You have to earn everything."
On Sunday, Boone helped out in a big way as the San Francisco 49ers outmuscled the Detroit Lions to a 27-19 victory. Alex Smith found Vernon Davis on San Francisco's opening drive for the game's first touchdown. Though the Lions clawed back and kept it close, the 49ers never relinquished the lead.
"We knew it would be a tough, close, aggressive, bell-ringing game, and it was," said head coach Jim Harbaugh. "We expected a physical game, anticipated that. We got that. They're a physical team."
For the second straight week, Smith operated efficiently as he threw for 226 total yards and completed passes to seven different receivers. However, the defining moments of the passing game came in the fourth quarter. With a little over nine minutes left in the game, the 49ers were trying to bleed out the clock while preserving their eight-point lead. They were able to do both and little extra.
On a drive that lasted six minutes, the 49ers converted three separate third downs. The target on each conversion? Michael Crabtree.
"Michael [Crabtree], all night, every time his number was called, was there and delivered consistently," said Smith. "Michael is the guy who has been there, worked extremely hard. He continues to work extremely hard, and our guys look to him."
Crabtree's conversions set up a second Smith-to-Davis touchdown that put the 49ers up by two possessions.
The 49ers' defense was excellent once again as they kept the Lions out of the endzone for four out of five scoring plays.
"[I] thought that overall, [the defense] did a tremendous job," said Coach Harbaugh. "[We] let a couple get out...but eventually getting [the Lions' offense] stopped, keeping them out of the end zone for 58 minutes of the game. I thought was very impressive as well."
The 49ers move to 2-0 on the season while the Lions drop to 1-1. San Francisco has now won nine consecutive games against Detroit, marking the longest active streak for the 49ers against any opponent.
-- TE Vernon Davis - 5 catches, 73 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
CAPTION: September 16, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis (85) catches a touchdown pass in front of Detroit Lions free safety John Wendling (29) during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
Earlier this week, Davis was being interviewed by his locker. A slew of reporters pressed Davis about how the team was preparing for the Detroit Lions, but Davis' plan was clear. Matter of fact, it was typed up, printed out, and pinned to a bulletin board right behind him.
On a white piece of paper, it read:
But Davis made a slight revision at the top of the list. In thick black marker, he wrote in all capital letters:
CATCH EVERY BALL
Davis was responsible for one drop in the second quarter, but it's really hard to be unhappy about five other catches - two of which were for touchdowns. He also learned his lesson from last week and opted for the fadeaway jump shot instead of a dunk. Good for him.
-- RG Alex Boone - 0 sacks allowed
CAPTION: GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Jonathan Goodwin #59, Mike Iupati #77 and Alex Boone #75 of the San Francisco 49ers react on the bench during the final moments of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers 21-19. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
In only his second career start, Boone was presented the task of guarding Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for the majority of the game - a tall order if you ask me. How did he fare?
Suh recorded his lone sack of the day only after he was moved to the edge - away from Boone - as an outside pass rusher. Coincidentally, on that same play, Boone picked up defensive end Lawrence Jackson and decleated him.
In other words, Boone was in complete control all day and looked damn good, even against Suh.
-- Honorable mentions: WR Michael Crabtree, RB Frank Gore, WR Mario Manningham --
THE HOT SEAT
-- Offensive position coaches (?) -
CAPTION: August 30, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman (left) and head coach Jim Harbaugh (right) watch before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
Seven players - Gore, Davis, Crabtree, Manningham, Kendall Hunter, Delanie Walker, and Bruce Miller - were responsible for dropped passes. Not incomplete passes, dropped passes. That means that more often than not, Smith was on-time and accurate with the ball only to be let down by his receivers.
John Morton? Greg Roman? Jim Harbaugh? I don't know who to paint the target on. What I do know is the 49ers now have ten total dropped passes over the last two games. This is the only grey cloud hanging over San Francisco at the moment, and if the 49ers want to be truly ‘elite,' the dropped passes must be remedied by the coaches.
THE WATER COOLER
"How'd he manage that?"
This would be my leading candidate for ‘Tweet of the Week' if I had such a category.
I couldn't tell you why the ‘game manager' moniker is worn like a scarlet letter, a badge of shame for quarterbacks. The ability to take care of the ball should be lauded not looked down upon. After Sunday's game, Alex Smith has thrown 216 consecutive passes without an interception. That's a franchise record, folks.
Through the first two games this season, here's Smith's stat line:
40 completions out of 57 attempts (70.2%), 437 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions.
Now, just for giggles, let's extrapolate those stats over 16 games:
320 completions out of 456 attempts, 3,496 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 0 interceptions.
At his current pace, he would improve upon his 2011 totals in every category with an additional 15 passing touchdowns. If Smith can manage that, the national media can call him whatever they want.
I'm glad it's over.
For a second, I was convinced the country cared more about a midfield formality between coaches than - you know - the actual game between the players. This is how ridiculous it had gotten: Bovada, an online sports book, was taking bets on whether or not Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh would shake hands after the game. On Friday night, the line was minus-500 that they shake and plus-300 that they don't shake.
Thankfully, Coach Harbaugh kept it tame with a casual pat on the back. Maybe now, there won't be so much bad blood between these two teams, and...what's that you say? Coach Harbaugh called the Lions ‘a chippy, late-hit bunch?' Joe Staley said their defensive line is 'extremely overrated?'
Sounds to me like a rivalry is a-brewin'...
Josh Morgan had a promising start to his 2011 campaign before breaking his right leg and being placed on injured reserve. Morgan was in his fourth season with the San Francisco 49ers after being drafted by them in 2009. His rookie contract was set expire at the end of the season, but Coach Harbaugh was very vocal about resigning Morgan whom he called a "tremendously hard worker."
Morgan said thanks, but no thanks.
Being born in Washington D.C. and playing collegiately at Virginia Tech, Morgan wanted to return to the nation's capital and play for his hometown Washington Redskins.
This past offseason, the Redskins signed Morgan to a five-year contract worth up to $12 million over the first two years, with $7.5 million guaranteed.
On Sunday, the Redskins were driving late in the game with about a minute and a half left. They were down by 3 points against the St. Louis Rams. Robert Griffin III connected with Morgan for a third down pass, and while Washington didn't get the first down, he got them to the 30-yard line. The Redskins were within a manageable distance for a game-tying field goal. Then Morgan, getting up from the catch, was subtly shoved in the helmet by Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Incensed, he hurled the ball at Finnegan hitting him in the arm.
Instead of trying from 47 yards away, Redskins kicker Billy Cundiff had to cover 62 yards instead. The kick went wide right, and Washington lost the game.
"NFC ‘Worst' or NFC ‘Best?' "
It's been said so matter-of-factly for so many years now that the NFC West is the worst division in football. Ask Tom Brady and Tony Romo if they share that sentiment.
The collective NFC West went 4-0 in the same weekend for the first time since Week Ten last season and only the second time since the division was realigned in 2002. The red-hot Redskins fizzled out against the St. Louis Rams. The New England Patriots had previously won 11 straight home opening games before falling to the Arizona Cardinals. And the Dallas Cowboys, after upsetting the defending Super Bowl champions...*snickers*...were absolutely shellacked by the Seattle Seahawks.
Perhaps it was true in seasons past, but this year, the NFC West just might be the NFC ‘Best.' Down South, the Saints continue their fall from grace, and the Panthers remain inconsistent. Up North, Aaron Rodgers looks very mortal while Jay Cutler is playing Santa Claus for opposing defenses. And in the East, every team is struggling to decide whether or not they suck.
I highly doubt the 49ers will reach a record of 13-3 as they did last year. I never expected the team to regress; I just know that the NFC West is a hell of a lot tougher than critics give it credit for. The 49ers will be tested inside their division as much as they will outside of it, and that's okay with me.
As they say: iron sharpens iron.
Hm. That sounds familiar. Who used to say that...?
Oh, right! It was Mike Singletary, former 49ers head coach and current linebackers coach for the Minnesota Vikings. The San Francisco 49ers will be paying him a visit as they continue their tour of the NFC North next Sunday. Many view the Vikings as the weakest team in the North, but Alex Boone understands that it won't be an easy task.
"[I'm] thinking, ‘Hey we have to go to Minnesota next week, and it is going to be a tough game,' " said Boone. "We are going to have to prepare like it is the Super Bowl, because this is a great team, and it is hard to play in their house. So we need to have a good week of preparation."
Rehabilitated. Refocused. Renewed.
Boone knows all too well the dangers in losing sight of a dream. And he's not going to let it happen again.
Follow Anthony Ly on Twitter: @TheBellamores