49ers

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.

The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).

Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."

"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."

Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.

The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."

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Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.

His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

[RELATED: 49ers go offense/defense in latest NFL mock draft]

The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.

Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

One of the 49ers' newest rivals is coming to the NFC West with lots of confidence.

DeAndre Hopkins hasn't even suited up for the Arizona Cardinals yet, but he told ESPN's "Jalen & Jacoby Show" that he "definitely" is the best wide receiver in the NFL. 

"I know I'm the best," Hopkins said Thursday. "Mike's my boy. I love [New Orleans Saints wide receiver] Michael [Thomas] ... but he knows if I had Drew Brees my whole career what these numbers would be. [Falcons wide receiver] Julio Jones knows if I had Matt Ryan my whole career. That's my boy. I trained with Julio, too. He knows what these numbers would be."

Hopkins caught passes from Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson over the last two-and-half seasons before Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals this offseason, and Watson is no slouch as a quarterback. The 27-year-old receiver made First Team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons since Watson was drafted, catching 257 passes for 3,288 yards and 24 touchdowns in the QB's 37 career starts.

But Hopkins was great despite playing with numerous forgettable quarterbacks in four years before Watson arrived in Houston, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 after finishing third in receiving yards (1,521) and tied for seventh in TDs (11) while Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden each started at least one game.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Hopkins won't have to worry about that in 2020, barring injury, as he's set to team up with up-and-coming star Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury's high-octane offense. That combination has the potential to be a thorn in the 49ers' side for years to come.

If you agree with where Hopkins stands among the game's best wide receivers, he'll pose a threat to the 49ers this season. Thomas and Jones each carved up the 49ers' dominat defense last season, with both catching 11 or more passes for 134 yards and at least one touchdown. Of the receivers who accrued at least 100 receiving yards in a game against the 49ers, Thomas (13) and Jones (11) had the most receptions.

[RELATED: How Washington jumping gun on Williams benefited 49ers] 

Hopkins will have two chances to replicate his peers' production, and he'll be aided by arguably a better supporting cast of receivers. Larry Fitzgerald caught 75 passes for 804 yards as a 36-year-old last season, while Christian Kirk had 709 receiving yards himself. Fitzgerald has gained more receiving yards (2,381) and scored more touchdowns (19) against the 49ers than any other team in his career, while Kirk has scored two of his six career TDs (in two seasons) against San Francisco.

The All-Pro receiver's swagger alone won't knock the 49ers off their divisional perch, but Hopkins' arrival should keep them -- and their secondary -- up at night preparing for (at least) two games against the Cardinals this season. 

How 49ers' Trent Williams trade benefited from Washington jumping gun

How 49ers' Trent Williams trade benefited from Washington jumping gun

If Trent Williams is fully healthy and plays up to his ability, the 49ers got an absolute steal in only giving up a 2020 fifth-round pick and 2021 third-round selection in last month's trade with Washington. Had he played last season, it's highly unlikely San Francisco would have been able to acquire him for such a low cost.

And, thanks to Washington jumping the gun, he didn't.

Williams joined NFL Media's Ian Rapoport on the "RapSheet and Friends" podcast set to debut Friday and revealed that he was, in fact, prepared to suit up for Washington once he reported to the team after the trade deadline last season. But before his new helmet could arrive, Washington placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list, officially ending his season.

"The competitive juices started to flow, so I was really prepared to make my return last year," Williams told Rapoport. "I know all of the things that had went on and just being in that facility, being around teammates, being around the guys you fought with and bled with for some many years. It was almost impossible for me to fight the urge not to just want to get back on the field. I was literally waiting on my new helmet to come in. I was getting ready to kind of gear up and it was going to be somewhat of a surprise to some, but I think for the people who know me best, they know how competitive I am.

"... I was under the impression my new helmet was coming in that Tuesday, and then I was put on the NFI ... right before I could even get the helmet to get back out there. It was a bummer but figured it was just how it was supposed to work out."

[RELATED: 49ers help Williams by restructuring final year of contract]

It should be noted, Washington saved $6 million by placing Williams on the NFI. Of course, that likely was the final nail in the coffin for their relationship. 

Williams doesn't sound too upset about it. You can be sure the 49ers -- who now have arguably the NFL's best offensive tackle -- aren't either.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]