When he steps on the turf at the Superdome in New Orleans on Feb. 3, the 49ers special teams ace will be trying to take down the very franchise that helped make him who he is today. From 2008-10, Gooden was a backup to Ray Lewis, developing the skillset that makes him one of the most entertaining players on the 49ers today.
“It’s great. Just an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl and compete against my old team is going to be fun,” Gooden said. “This is one of those things that kids dream about. Especially coming from one spot and not knowing where you’re going to be at and going to the other side of the country. Now being able to face the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl is a blessing. I can’t wait to get out there and compete with them.”
When San Francisco clinched its second straight playoff berth under Jim Harbaugh this year, it wasn’t anything new to Gooden. In his five-year career, the energetic linebacker has never missed the playoffs.
That’s because he was a part of three Baltimore teams that have made the playoffs in each of the five seasons since John Harbaugh was named head coach before the 2008 season. While a lot has changed since Gooden made the change of scenery from East Coast to West Coast right before the 2011 season started, he isn’t forgetting his professional roots.
“They’re a reason why I’m still in the NFL,” Gooden said. “John Harbaugh and (special teams coordinator) Jerry Rosburg took me in and showed me how important special teams is to the game, especially as far as being on a team and being part of a team. I took that in and it’s helped me out my whole career. I’ve been gracious to play on a lot of teams just because I’m able to play a lot of special teams and I’m thankful for that. If not for them, I probably wouldn’t have this opportunity.”
As the Harbaugh brothers take center stage in the media spotlight, Gooden holds the distinction of being the only player on either active roster to have played for Jim and John as head coaches in the NFL.
There may be nearly 2,300 miles separating San Francisco and New Orleans, but Gooden and the Tony Montana Squad will be trying to show the world some of their Bay Area swagger. Whenever the kickoff team takes the field for the 49ers, the high-energy group makes sure to pump up the crowd and put on a show before streaking down the field to make the tackle.
In the middle of the madness will be Gooden, who still carries valuable lessons from his days with John Harbaugh as a young NFL player.
“Just an attitude – letting your personality shine, building a bully, everything,” Gooden said. “I learned how to play in the National Football League. How to be physical, and at the same time, not be a dirty player.”
For more than a decade, Baltimore has built an identity as one of the league’s most bruising outfits. Since Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio took over, the 49ers have also become one of the hardest-hitting groups in the NFL.
“I know it’s going to be a physical game,” Gooden said. “I know what they try to build their reputation on; they’re trying to bang, bang, nail people. … This is going to be a game that you can talk about afterwards for a long time."
Not only will Gooden be facing his former franchise, but he’ll also be playing alongside and against fellow alumni from the University of Miami. The proud football tradition of the school will be boasted on both sides, as Gooden and
“It’s great. It really shows what we have,” Gooden said. “I’m proud of all the ‘Canes that are in this game.”