NEW ORLEANS — Michael Crabtree refused to remove the black 49ers beanie and reveal his hair. Nope, not going to do it.
Not that his ‘do has much to do with it. But this is Crabtree, quirky and superstitious, a guy still trying to shed that diva label he picked up as a college star at Texas Tech. It’s something his San Francisco teammates are quick to dismiss, insisting that’s not the case.
The dynamic, play-making wide receiver will be a primary focus for the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary come Sunday at the Superdome. Crabtree is as dangerous after the catch as he is dodging defensive backs to make acrobatic catches or finding ways to keep both feet inbounds while tiptoeing the sideline.
“A lot of coaches can coach a route and how you catch the ball, but after the catch it’s really all you,” he said. “That’s what makes you special.”
No matter his catches or number of chances this weekend, Crabtree cares about only one thing: capping his career season with a championship ring. The fanfare and media frenzy, he’ll take it or leave it (his voice was hoarse Wednesday from all the talking). He is still coming to terms with being a public figure, and the constant scrutiny that goes along with it.
Just last week, Crabtree learned he wouldn’t face charges for an alleged sexual assault in a hotel after the 49ers beat Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoffs on Jan. 12. The San Francisco district attorney announced Friday there would be no charges “at this time.” The wideout was never arrested or detained, and police said he cooperated with the investigation.
“I was disappointed in the allegations,” Crabtree said Wednesday morning, before heading off to practice at Saints headquarters. “It’s over now.”
Crabtree still carries a chip on his shoulder and is out to prove he should have been drafted higher. He held out for 71 days as a rookie before signing in October 2009 and becoming a starter less than three weeks later. He wouldn’t change much about how things have gone so early in his NFL career.
After all, had he gone to the Oakland Raiders with the seventh overall pick that year — they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey instead — Crabtree would be watching after yet another losing season in the East Bay. The Niners grabbed him three spots later at No. 10.
“I watched him as a youngster, I watched him in college,” Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones said. “When he came out and he held out, I was interested to see what he was going to do. He came in and I was like, ‘This kid can play.’ I like his game. He’s got great hands, great route runner.”
Colin Kaepernick sure thinks so. Crabtree quickly became the second-year quarterback’s top target after he took over the starting job under center midseason.
Kaepernick’s passes come so fast they require extra concentration and “you’ve just got to focus at all times on his ball.”
“He does a lot of things well and he’s a very physical receiver,” Kaepernick said. “He wants to get in the end zone every time he touches the ball. As a quarterback, that’s something you love.”
Crabtree receives guidance from a couple of other characters who have dazzled at his position — teammate Randy Moss and former 49ers star Terrell Owens. Moss tells Crabtree like it is, on the field and off, while T.O. offers advice from time to time via text messages.