When it comes to the San Francisco 49ers safety tandem of Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, both are very like-minded when it comes to playing the game of football.
The duo resembles one another in the fact that both are extremely passionate, hard-nosed, intelligent players who play the game the right away. They also deliver some of the most jarring open-field hits in the National Football League.
The hard-hitting safeties were the subject of our latest 49ers Gameday Magazine cover story, a Holiday-inspired shoot photographed by team photographer Terrell Lloyd and designed by team graphic designer Ben Mayberry. A poster version of the cover is also available just in time for stocking-stuffers.
Find out how much fun the 49ers safety tandem has playing beside one another and the respect they have for playing physical football the right way.
WHITNER & GOLDSON LUMBER CO.
A physical brand of football sets San Francisco’s safeties apart from the rest.
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
You know the sound. You remember it well. It’s the reverberation of a sold-out stadium going ballistic over an open-field hit. It’s a familiar sound, too, one where the 49ers Faithful instantaneously reacts to a moment of physical eruption. It’s also the sound routinely made after Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson deliver a textbook tackle that brings you out of your seat and that reaction from out of your gut. It’s only natural to react that way. It’s the phenomenon known as a “Whoo-lick,” the reaction to a crushing tackle once coined by Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott.
This year’s safety tandem is a lot like the feared 49ers defensive back whose menacing stare made him one of the game’s all-time fiercest combatants. Whether they realize it or not, Whitner and Goldson have carved out a unique style of football, vicious, yet, righteous. Never will they go out of character to make a dangerous tackle. The duo plays the game the right way, setting an example for young players on how to play tough, smart, hard-nosed football. It’s also something they take immense satisfaction in doing every time they step on the field.
“Dashon and I take pride in being physical safeties,” says Whitner, a seventh-year pro who ranks fourth on the team with 90 tackles. “We understand how to do it. You have to hit with your eyes up at all times. A lot of guys go in there and they close their eyes, cringe and drop their head, but we don’t do that. We keep our head up, our eyes up and we wrap up. But we also play physical and we bring it when we hit.”
They sure do. Just ask many of their NFC contemporaries who have coughed up the football when Whitner and Goldson apply force in between the hashmarks. The key to it all, according to Goldson, is playing the game fundamentally sound with intelligence and toughness. “I think I was coached a certain way growing up, how to do things properly,” says the 2011 Pro Bowl safety, who leads the team with three interceptions to go with 82 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. “I was always a fundamentally-sound kind of guy. I was coached well growing up in that aspect, but the rest of it is want-to. I really just look at it like that – it’s want-to. Some guys talk about tackling doing this, but when they get in that position, that situation, there’s no turning back. Some guys turn it down or duck their heads. It’s just want-to; you want to get it done.”
It truly makes a difference when you look at the 49ers rankings against the pass in its second full season under coordinator Vic Fangio. The unit currently ranks No. 2 in the league, allowing 189 yards per game while holding opposing quarterbacks to a paltry 77.2 quarterback rating. Fangio recently noted that opposing players should be alarmed when looking to attack the deep middle of the 49ers defense. “If they watch enough film,” Fangio said, “they’ll see that there are some landmines in there that they might step on.”
No guts, no glory. That’s how Goldson explains it. Relentless football at its finest is his calling card. It’s impressive, too. So much so, the 49ers six-year veteran drafted by the club in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, says he fields texts from former safeties congratulating him for his recent accomplishments with the 49ers. “I’m getting calls from vets, no longer in the game, like, ‘I really respect what you’re doing out there – you’re a heck of a player,’” says Goldson. “Stuff like that is real cool.”
Whitner certainly respects it. In fact, the hard-hitting safety says Goldson is the best player he’s played beside in his football career. “He’s free-spirited,” says Whitner, “He comes to work and has fun playing the game. You can see it when he’s out there. It’s a pleasure to play with him, he’s someone that you know is going to be ready game in and game out, practice in and practice out.”
The respect is more than mutual. Both gifted players share the same passion for the game. Whitner says it’s his No. 1 hobby and the same can be said for Goldson. Both safeties love the game pure and simple. “He’s a real student of the game,” Goldson says of Whitner. “He’s really into his study habits and making the game easy, especially in practice and it shows. You look at his notepad and it’s full. He’s studying film on his way to the stadium and when we’re in the locker room, before we even get on the field.”
Goldson shares a similar passion for film review, but also considers himself to be more an instinctual player. Both methods have led to the 49ers producing consistent performances on Sunday. Through 13 weeks of the NFL season, San Francisco has played five games without allowing a touchdown. Much of that success is a credit to the players thriving in Fangio’s detailed vision for the defense.
“His system is now our system,” says Goldson, who has nine interceptions in 28 games playing for Fangio. “As the safeties, we have to get guys lined up, we have to make calls. We play a big part in it, just like everyone on our defense. I think with it being our second year in it, we’re real comfortable. It allows us to play fast because we know what we’re doing.”
So while the 49ers safeties continue to thrive the longer they play together in Fangio’s system, it’s only natural that their style of play be acknowledged for its contributions to the team’s recent success. It also serves to be a teaching ground for young football players who aspire to be in Whitner and Goldson’s shoes one day.
“If I had to say anything to the young kids out there that watch me and Dashon and watch our defense, the first thing is to be safety-conscious,” says Whitner. “We want the kids to know you have to play the game safe. I’m saying be smart, keep your head up, keep your eyes up. You never want to compromise your neck or your spine or anything like that.”
Being the modern day Ronnie Lotts for the 49ers Faithful isn’t really a problem to the tandem, even if Goldson is quick to downplay similarities to the legendary safety. “I know a lot of guys try to compare to me but there’s no way I can compare to him,” says Goldson. “I’m just trying to make a path for myself and do what I’ve got to do. What he did here was awesome. What I’m trying to do here is win football games and get to his status.”
There’s no question the 49ers safeties are some of the most passionate football players you will find in the locker room, or in any city for that matter. It’s infectious and translates on Sundays. Whitner can’t fake it. He loves the game.
“Grinding for one common goal,” he says, “that’s where my passion comes from.”
And from hearing that “WHOOOOOOOOOOO!” on Sundays.
Tags: Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Vic Fangio
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