The San Francisco 49ers are a perfect five-for-five playing for the Super Bowl title. A native New Orleanian, Nate Singleton, was a part of the last Super Bowl win by the Niners in Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami on January 29, 1995.
There was quite a bit of talent on the west bank of New Orleans in 1987. Quarterback Leonard Valentine as well as Mike Riley were at John Ehret. West Jeff was blessed with Glenn Montgomery, Simmie Carter and Elfred Payton.
But wide receiver Nate Singleton, quarterback Shawn Buras and cornerback Leo Addison more than held their own while plying their trade at L.W. Higgins. Nate was recognized for his abilities with the Hurricanes earning All-District, All-State, All-Metro and even prep All-American in some circles .
Singleton performed so expertly that his jersey number (#82) was retired by Higgins following his high school graduation. Offers rolled in from an assortment of colleges .
"LSU, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Illinois offered," Nate said. "At LSU, the timing was perfect. Wendell Davis was leaving and (freshmen) Todd Kinchen was arriving," Nate Singleton remembered, but his decision surprised some. "It was past signing day. I had an uncle that had gone to Grambling. I loved my experience at Grambling, but if I had to do it again, I would have gone to LSU."
Legendary coach Eddie Robinson was running the show at Grambling State. He had a dramatic impact on Singleton.
"Words can't describe his character, his integrity, his love for young men. You can live your life and raise your kids on the morals that he set."
The man they called Coach Rob had been in the game for many years, but his tried-and-true style still had merit.
"His word was 'Dammit, if they can do it, we can do it.' He would say 'one of you can be president of the United States if you believe it'. The motivation that he gave you to do whatever you wanted if you wanted it bad enough," Nate recalled.
Singleton came from humble beginnings growing up. His mom and dad had engrained a good work ethic and a game plan that would help him grow up to appreciate the basic fundamentals of everyday life, to know what is really important. "Just being a young man with integrity, not smoking, drinking or doing drugs. I got that from my mom and dad , working everyday," he said.
"I didn't get a class ring (from Higgins) letterman jacket or go to the prom. I didn't want to take money from my parents that could be used elsewhere."
The athletic department didn't have a weight room at Grambling , but young Nate realized the aura and tradition that engulfed the storied football program. " My years at Grambling made me who I am today. If it weren't for Grambling , I wouldn't be the person that I am . Integrity and character.....tough times and hard knocks, becoming a young man. It toughened me up."
Singleton's senior year with the Tigers was his opportunity to shine. After seeing spot duty throughout most of his career, he sooned showed his exceptional skills.
"We were playing Virginia Union the second game of the 1991 season. The game was being played in Yankee Stadium. It was my coming-out game." He had 16 catches for 330 yards and three touchdowns in that contest, but he could have had lots more. "I had five grabs that were called back due to penalties; one was a 75 yard touchdown. They called offensive pass interference on me. I went up against three defenders to steal away the ball, came down and ran for a score. On the plane ride back, our PR guy told me that I had broken (the school) record. It could have easily been 20 catches for 480 yards," he chuckled.
Coming back to the Superdome for the annual Bayou Classic was always a thrill. Nate was named game MVP in 1991 after a five-catch, 100-yard plus performance to go along with a pair of touchdowns.
Following his college days, it was time to move onto the next phase of his gridiron career.
"I had heard from the New Orleans Saints. Hokie Gajan came down to scout me as did Bob Whitman with San Francisco. I went to the Combine and did good, interviewed well. I usually ran 4.3's at Grambling but ran a 4.5 at Indy."
He had excelled both as a receiver and punt returner at Grambling, finishing second in the nation in punt returns in 1989-90 behind future Giants star Dave Meggett. He had a 100-yard kick return for a score versus Mississippi Valley.
Scouts, NFL personnel and even draft analysts knew who Nate was.
"Mel Kiper had me going in the 3rd round. The Giants remembered my game in Yankee Stadium."
Still, Singleton wasn't taken until the 11th round in 1992. "I had a chip on my shoulder," Singleton explained. "I took pride in learning the game."
The Giants cut him when they set their final roster at the end of 1992 preseason. The 49ers remembering Witman's scouting report and signed Singleton. The experience with the Giants would serve as a motivation to the young receiver. In two meetings against the Giants during his tenure on the west coast, Singleton and his teammates beat New York both times with the first victory coming in the 1993 playoffs.
"In 1993 the 49ers signed me," Nate recollected. "Joe Montana did the OTA's with the team but was still in negotiations. Soon thereafter, he went to Kansas City and beat us in a game-winning drive the following season."
Following Montana's departure, San Francisco was now Steve Young's team.
"Steve sat behind Joe for three years. He was a remarkable athlete. People didn't understand, Steve was in the same class as a runner as Michael Vick or Randall Cunningham. And he was smart. He became an attorney and possessed a lot of savvy."
George Seifert was the head coach of the 49ers at that time. The table was set at receiver with Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Northwestern State's Odessa Turner while 13 additional prospects were vying for the final spot. "The Niners only carried four receivers. My agent begged me not to sign with San Francisco," Singleton said. "I learned all the wide receiver positions and took pride in that. I wanted to know all about the West Coast offense."
No one was too valuable for any of the responsibilities on the team. "All of our receivers ran all of the routes. We all ran scout team: Jerry Rice, John Taylor, everybody."
Nate was given an up-close-and-personal perspective on the greatest receiver of them all. "I was close to Jerry Rice. Once you're there, your solid. Jerry was part of the SWAC (former Mississippi Valley star). We had a bond. There was a respect factor. He knew where I had come from. At Grambling, we used to practice for three hours a day. Nothing like the SWAC for skill people. We could compete anywhere, with anybody."
Rice's off season workout was second to none and not for the faint of heat. Nate painfully recalls pushing himself through Jerry's physical conditioning tests.
"Never in my life did I see anybody with that intensity. When it comes to desire, he's second to no one. You're not going to out work him. It was two and 1/2 miles up a very steep hill in San Francisco during the offseason. You had to sustain the whole way. It lasted 30-35 minutes. It was a controlled sprint. The incline was tough. Continuously running uphill. A group of us including J.J. Stokes, Ricky Watters and I did it one and done. It was grueling. It was the toughest running workout I'd ever done."
Rice was the trendsetter off-the-field and pacesetter on it. He performed feats that were unimaginable, even among his teammates. "Jerry never missed any balls even at practice. He never tired. We were playing in St. Louis,and it was 90 degrees. We were on an artificial turf, which could be blazing hot. In one drive, five plays in a row went to Jerry. Everybody was fatigued during the drive. On the sixth play, he took a reverse 60 yards for a touchdown. He outran everyone. He was never gasping for air. He took hits that could make you shudder and still got up. His nickname was WORLD because he was all-world."
On January 29, 1995, the Niners won their fifth world title, but Super Bowl XXIX took on special meaning to Nate. "The whole season we had so much talent. We dominated teams. We treated the game just like any other. We could have been the best ever."
The defensive was loaded with stalwarts such as former Saints linebacker and future Canton inductee Rickey Jackson, Charles Mann, Richard Dent, Ken Norton, Tim McDonald, Deion Sanders and Merton Hankins. On offense, San Francisco could hold their own with the best in history. Ricky Watters, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones, Jesse Sapolu and Harris Barton were led by Young. The Niner prevailed over the out-matched Chargers, 49-26.
"Steve Young got the monkey off his back. He had won three Super Bowl rings but it wasn't HIS team. He was in Joe's shadow. Everybody on the team knew it meant a lot to him."
From top to bottom , San Francisco was a model franchise. Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. always put the players first. "He would have a fishing trip for the players. Contests for the biggest fish, the first fish caught, the most fish. You could win SUV's, vacations around the world (airfare paid), stereos, TV's all paid by Eddie. I sat right next to John Taylor one year. He caught 30 fish; I didn't catch one," Nate laughed.
Following his departure from the 49ers, Nate experienced three more NFL stops, but one was a nightmare. In fact, Singleton says it all stemmed from a bad experience with a man considered one of the NFL's good guys.
"I went to Philly (Eagles) because Jon Gruden was the offensive coordinator at the time. I dealt with him. He told me that I would compete for a starting role, so that's why I went there. Everything was the exact opposite from what I was told. It was my worst experience. Gruden has no character. That has all come to light now."
His next stop was in Tennessee with the Titans where he teamed with Steve McNair and Eddie George. He spent seven games there.
Nate's final NFL address was with San Francisco's Super Bowl XLVII opponents, the Baltimore Ravens. "I played with great players like Vinnie Testeverde and Ray Lewis," noted Singleton. "I spent seven games there."
Singleton stayed in sports after his NFL career ended. Currently, Nate operates a sports performance business for athletes called Singleton Sports Performance.
"I let them know what it takes to be a pro." He resides in Luling, volunteering on the football staff at Hahnville High School by coaching the wide receivers and keeping a close eye on his son Brian, a skilled young Hahnville player with a little of his dad's abilities.
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