SANTA CLARA — Two weeks before wide receiver Marquise Goodwin won the 49ers’ Garry Niver Award for cooperation and professionalism with the media, I got the feeling he wanted to punch me.
This was during a one-on-one interview at Goodwin’s locker.
“You’re having a big growth season,” I said to him. “Some people feel you stepped up after Pierre Garcon went down, and you have a good relationship with Jimmy Garoppolo. Would you consider those contributing factors to your emergence recently?”
Goodwin stared at the floor.
Did I say something wrong?
“What else has played into your emergence?” I asked, trying to modify my question.
“Uh, throwing me the ball,” Goodwin said. “That’s it. It ain’t got nothing to do with Pierre. It ain’t got nothing to do with Jimmy.”
I definitely said something wrong.
“You don’t think you’ve grown as a player?” I asked
“No,” he said. “I’m the same player. It’s not like I changed overnight and became this person who can catch or run a route. I won’t elaborate.”
He was staring at me now. Sizing me up. Visualizing the ass-kicking he could give me, I thought.
I needed to make him less defensive.
“What does it feel like when you catch the ball in stride and you break away?” I asked. “Is it a good feeling?”
“It’s not a bad feeling,” Goodwin said, still staring. Hardly blinking.
Oh for one.
“Which feeling do you prefer,” I asked, “scoring a touchdown or winning a race?”
“Both,” Goodwin said.
Oh for two. Goodwin squinted his eyes and shook his head like he had just heard the dumbest question of his life.
“What did you take pride in as a sprinter and as a jumper?” I asked.
“Winning,” Goodwin said. Another head shake.
Oh for three. I was ready to give up.
“Everyone likes to win,” I said. “Everyone likes results. What about the process?”
Goodwin’s face softened.
“The type of working hours you put in sometimes is overlooked,” he said. “The diet. The little sacrifices that you take from your family, people don’t take that into account.
“When they go and judge a professional player over social media, they don’t realize what a young 21-year-old is going through being away from his family, the first time in his life having some money and having opportunities. And then he goes to social media where it’s supposed to be his platform to communicate himself or show a little bit of his life or his story to everybody else in the world, and they go and put him down.
“I don’t think anybody in any sport ever sucks. You’re an athlete. You’re a professional.”
Goodwin was talking about himself — that’s my interpretation. He must have taken a ton of criticism earlier in his career. He probably felt I was another critic trying to diminish him.
I thought the interview could work if I asked him philosophical questions instead of questions about him.
“A lot of good sprinters haven’t been good at football,” I said. “What are the differences in the skill sets?”