I was surprised to read this popular Biblical tale evoked such a strong response. Choked up with emotion? Really? And then I recalled my favorite moment from Saturday’s NFC West championship game. Every time I replay that moment, tears fill my own eyes. I too get choked up with emotion. Is it the story of the prodigal son? Yes and no.After catching a 14-yard pass to put the Niners in the lead with 9 seconds in the game, Forty-Niner Vernon Davis ran to head coach Jim Harbaugh at the sidelines. With tears in his eyes, the tight end met Harbaugh’s whole-hearted embrace. Thanks to a colleague who reads lips, I came to learn that Coach Harbaugh said “You did it!” three times (include one expletive in there). However as much as I love this image in the way I appreciate Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son, it’s not the same story.
For one, the Vernon Davis that Harbaugh knows is not akin to the younger son profiled in the parable. This Vernon Davis didn’t squander his talents and abilities under a man I hope is named the 2011 Coach of the Year. This is not the same "Vernon Davis," as he often refers to himself in interviews, as the one who had little guidance of what it took to be a real winner. That Davis got into scuffles during training camp practices. That Vernon Davis--first round draft choice out of the University of Maryland--was sent to the locker room mid-game. That Vernon Davis inspired a tirade by former head coach Mike Singletary after his first game as head coach.
Coach Singletary said
I will not tolerate players who think it’s about them, when it’s about the team. And we cannot make decisions that cost the team and then come off the sideline and its nonchalant. No. It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can't do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win. I told him that he would do a better job for us right now taking a shower and coming back and watching the game than going out on the field. Simple as that.When Vernon Davis publicly admitted "I don't miss Singletary” after Singletary was fired, I started to think—wow, he too held in contempt all that he had been given.
According to Samuel Lam in 49ers TE Vernon Davis credits Mike Singletary for guiding him to this point “What Singletary did was prepare Davis for a great moment like that on Saturday. Since Singletary's first game with the 49ers, Davis had transformed into a better teammate and a better person. This season, Davis attended every practice, lifted up teammates and continued to work on his craft as a football player. That all may not have happened had Singletary not given him a reality check by sending him to the locker room back in 2008. And that game-winning 14-yard touchdown catch might have only still remained as an unattainable dream."
And truth be told when asked about Singletary's impact in his career, Davis admitted he now understands what his former coach wanted out of him. According to an interview on KNBR he said, "I'm glad he was aboard from the start because I learned so much from him. And not just about football, but about life, about the team, being a part of a team, and I take my hat off to him. I learned so much from him."
It seems to me this once brash, bold, gifted son came to realize the error of his ways. If I could change just one thing from Saturday’s game, it would be that the man meeting Vernon Davis on the sidelines was the respectable and honorable Mike Singletary. No, I don’t want to return to a Niner team under his leadership. Yes, I realize the Niners would not still be playing if he were the head coach. But because Singletary, a virtuous devout Christian who epitomizes what the father in the parable does, I would love to see him welcome this gifted athlete home. Home to excellence and to victory. Go Niners!
Rembrandt's Prodigal Son
Coach Singletary and Davis