- Doug Williams
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Jersey No. 81 wasn’t bad for Art Monk, Carl Eller, Tim Brown, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Jackie Smith, Roy Green, Andy Robustelli or Terrell Owens.
Each was an NFL star, and several are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So, No. 81 isn’t hexed.
Unless, of course, it’s being worn in San Francisco, where a parade of 49ers pass-catchers (specifically wide receivers) has mostly bombed in the nine seasons since a disgruntled Owens -- then one of the NFL’s finest receivers -- was shipped to the Eagles in a trade after the 2003 season.
Almost four years ago, the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows wrote about “The Curse of the Bambin-t.o.,” documenting the failures of Niners who had tried (unsuccessfully) to fill T.O.’s cleats. Since then, several more names have been added to the list.
According to numerologist Scott Petullo of Las Vegas, the No. 81 can be tricky. If a player’s other numbers in his personal chart (birth date and time, location, etc.) align with it, there’s no problem. But if they’re off kilter, No. 81 can be a killer.
“The No. 81 represents circumstances that do not endure,” says Petullo. He says it can be wonderful for a time, “but it doesn’t last. It suddenly wipes out, disappears.”
If that’s the case, then plenty of life charts spelled doom for those who’ve worn 81 since Owens. Consider:
Rashaun Woods: The Oklahoma State star was taken with the 31st overall pick of the 2004 draft. After catching 293 passes for more than 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in college, he caught seven total passes in two seasons with the 49ers and was traded in 2006. After trying his hand at pro bass fishing, he’s now a high school coach in Oklahoma.
Brandon Williams: The Wisconsin wideout was taken in the third round of the 2006 draft. In 2007 he switched his number from 17 to 81 -- and was soon released. In 16 games in two seasons, he never caught a pass.
Antonio Bryant: Signed a four-year, $14 million free-agent deal with 49ers in 2006 and had 40 catches for 733 yards and three TDs. But the former Biletnikoff Award winner as college football’s best receiver was arrested in 2006 and charged with recklessly driving an orange Lamborghini at more than 100 mph on Highway 101. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year's probation. He was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse rules and was released after clashes with head coach Mike Nolan.
Sean Ryan: Former Boston College tight end, who played for four previous NFL teams, was signed as a free agent in 2008, got in six games and had one catch.
Brandon Jones: Oklahoma wideout was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, had one catch in eight games and was released.
Braylon Edwards: He’d always worn No. 17 in the NFL, first with the Browns as the No. 3 overall pick of the 2005 draft, and then with the Jets. When he signed with the 49ers in August of 2011, No. 17 was taken, so he wore No. 81 in the preseason, but told reporters, “That number’s temporary. I’m not trying to be the next him [Owens].” But the damage was done. He switched to No. 17 when the season began, but was injured and eventually was waived in December with just 15 receptions.
Justin Peelle: The backup tight end got the No. 81 discarded by Edwards in 2011 and played in 14 games, making one catch.
Chris Owusu: The former standout receiver at Stanford, who wore No. 81 in college, was given the number in training camp in 2012 after signing as a free agent. He was among the final roster cuts.
Garrett Celek: In a rare bright spot for the number, the undrafted tight end from Michigan State -- the younger brother of Eagles tight end Brent Celek -- made the roster in 2012 and played 13 games, catching four passes.
Now, Anquan Boldin has arrived.
If ever a player was capable of burying the “curse,” it’s Boldin.
Since being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, Boldin has worn No. 81 while winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens last season, having two 100-catch and five 1,000-yard seasons, collecting 772 regular-season receptions and scoring 58 touchdowns, while also earning points for his toughness, leadership and good works. Even his nonprofit group, the Anquan Boldin Foundation, incorporates the number: Q81.
Petullo says 81 is “very compatible with the collective energy of Anquan’s comprehensive charts. It’s rather rewarding for him.” The caveat: Petullo says the charts also show that Boldin’s career after age 33 -- which he turns in October -- may conclude within 18 months.
Boldin -- who declined to talk about No. 81 or the 49ers’ recent woes with it -- apparently isn’t worried about it. He cut a deal with Celek to wear it.
Yet some fans still are. Wrote one, on the 49ers’ website when it was announced Boldin had gotten No. 81: “No not the accursed 81 … please no.”