Pierre Garçon hasn't suited up for the 49ers in nearly two years, but he still has a strong influence on one of the team's star players.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday, the veteran receiver shared that he was a little surprised tight end George Kittle and coach Kyle Shanahan mentioned him in the aftermath of the 49ers' dominant 33-6 win over the New England Patriots, but the shout-outs also brought him joy.
“I am surprised because those guys are in their season, but I’m happy that they still think about me,” Garçon said. “Those are my teammates, my friends. We go a long way, and I’m happy to see all the success and happy to still have connection to the game.”
Garçon played just 16 games over two seasons with the 49ers after coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch signed the receiver a sizable, oft-criticized five-year contract in 2017. The 49ers didn't pick up his contract option in 2019 after neck and knee injuries kept Garçon off the field.
What no one knew is how Garçon’s presence in the locker room would still be paying off in 2020.
Kittle, who is known for running over his opponents, cited Garçon as one of the key influences in his game-day mentality after the win over the Patriots. The veteran receiver was the first person Kittle saw go to the “dark place” that Shanahan constantly spoke about.
Garçon revealed that he and the Kittle never had a specific conversation about their aggressive style, but the two had a mutual understanding of its importance. They both know how intimidating it can be for defenders trying to tackle them.
“It’s just something that we start as receivers,” Garçon said. “We say the play doesn’t start until we get the ball. Coaches can’t teach you how to run after the catch, you just have to realize what you want, and George has definitely been showing that.”
Garçon’s violent running style came from a need for survival. As a sixth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2008, Garçon entered an elite receiving room. The rookie from Mount Union competed with and learned from the likes of All-Pros Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
“When I was in Indy, those guys were opposite from me,” Garcon said. “Reggie and Marvin, they were more finesse and smooth. They were just naturally gifted. I’m not as naturally gifted as those guys, but I know when I get the ball I can run and break tackles, so I tried to use that to my advantage.
“I can’t do what they did. I just knew once I did get the ball, the play would start and I’m not going to go down, because those guys usually get tackled and go down. I got to get as many yards as these guys. I had to bring something extra and that’s where I think it started.”
Garçon also credited former Pro Bowl running back Joseph Addai, whom he saw run through defenders. The receiver's goal was to catch passes like Harrison and Wayne, and then blow through opponents like Addai.
While Kittle and the 49ers' locker room have been influenced by Garçon’s hard-hitting style, the veteran receiver said the team still has an influence on him as well. He has been inspired by the character the team demonstrated battling through constant injuries this season, never showing any quit.
“It’s amazing,” Garçon said. “These guys are resilient, they still show up and play. Everybody gets hurt but they keep coming back to play because they want to win. That’s the atmosphere, environment, culture that Kyle and John wanted and have.
“I want them to go back to the Super Bowl. It’s still going on, it’s not over yet, it’s just little hurdles in the road.”