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Anquan Boldin key to 49ers' passionate journey to title game

"I'll tell you a story about Anquan," said quarterback Josh McCown, who has played 11 NFL seasons (including a brief preseason stint with the 49ers in 2011) and enjoyed a resurgence with the Bears this season.

McCown goes on to describe Boldin's first NFL game, in September 2003. They were teammates with the Cardinals when Boldin began his pro career with a 10-catch, 217-yard performance in a loss to Detroit.

"He had the greatest rookie debut in the history of the league," McCown said. "He also muffed a punt in that game. I don't think it lost the game or anything, but it was a big play. So after the game, everyone is crowding around Anquan's locker, and everyone is asking him about all the catches. And all he wanted to talk about is the punt. That sort of tells you what kind of player he is."

Boldin still seems uncomfortable talking about his own importance. But teammates are quick to praise his leadership, even on a team that had no shortage of leaders -#8212; think Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis -#8212; when he arrived.

"From his history, he's already got that instant credibility of being that guy, because of the way he approaches the game," said 49ers wide receivers coach John Morton, in his 16th year as an NFL assistant. "His preparation is by far, by all the guys I've been around, the best. Anywhere."

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