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Quirky Michael Crabtree rides career year to 49ers’ Super Bowl berth
NEW ORLEANS — Michael Crabtree refused to remove the black 49ers beanie and reveal his hair. Nope, not going to do it.
Crabtree is trying to maintain every possible element of surprise he might still have left heading into his first Super Bowl — and will certainly take any advantage he can get this week.
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.
They've got a few things in common, too.
In the season finale against Arizona on Dec. 30, Crabtree caught two touchdowns and finished with a career-high 172 yards on eight receptions. It was the best outing by a 49ers receiver since Owens' 166-yard performance in November 2002. Crabtree, finally healthy for a full season after a series of injuries in his first three seasons, also became San Francisco's first 1,000-yard receiver since T.O. in '03.
If he and Kaepernick can keep their good thing going, Crabtree certainly has a chance at a championship.
"He's a great runner and he has great ability to make people miss," Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said. "He's elusive. He's a guy that can put his foot in the ground and move and get to a different direction. He's having a great year and he's done some great things for that team. We look forward to the challenge out there of going against him."
Crabtree keeps defenders guessing on every down with his big-play potential all over the field.
He finished with career highs of nine touchdowns, 85 catches and 1,105 yards this season. That included five TDs and 30 catches on third-down plays — both stats among the top five in the NFL.
Teammate Frank Gore describes his recent play as the "Texas Tech Crabtree."
Crabtree took it personally when the 49ers failed to reach last year's Super Bowl after a 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual champion New York Giants. San Francisco's receiving corps managed one catch for 3 yards that game. It was his reception, but hardly enough.
"I can't really pinpoint the things that Crabtree has picked up," Moss said. "I just told him when I first came I really wanted to work, I just wanted to be out there with him to make plays for him. Michael Crabtree hasn't let me down, he really hasn't. Everybody has little stumbles in the road. It's great to see a person to overcome so many things. His whole 49ers career he's had some stumbles and hasn't been able to complete a whole season, but to go out there and make the plays he's made this year, my hat's off to him."
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