It felt like a dream, the first time Al Netter buckled the chinstrap on the iconic gold helmet of his hometown San Francisco 49ers. The narrative of his surreal rookie season will end at the Super Bowl.
“I think it’s pretty unreal what I’m living right now,” Netter said to PurpleWildcats. “First of all, to be playing for my hometown team, who I rooted for during my whole upbringing, then to make to the Super Bowl in my rookie season, I don’t think it gets much better than that.”
After going undrafted, the former four-year starter at Northwestern waited for the call from an NFL team. It came from a local area code.
Netter signed with the 49ers as a member of their practice squad. The tackle joined an elite offensive line—a unit which produced two Pro Bowl players and blocked for the league’s top rushing attack. In his role, Netter must learn head coach Jim Harbaugh’s complex offensive schemes as if he’s a starter.
Along the way, Netter has dressed for each of the 49ers’ games—being a part of their 13-4-1 record. The team’s success has benefited his growth as a player.
“We’ve had a really, really good season,” said Netter. “It has been great to be a part of a team with so many great players and so many great leaders. I’ve been learning from the best. It has been a great learning experience for me.”
The task for Netter is nothing easy. Coach Harbaugh’s offensive system incorporates countless formations and personnel packages. The playbook only grew larger when quarterback Alex Smith was replaced by Colin Kaepernick, welcoming in a different look on offense.
“It’s very complex,” Netter said of the system. “It takes a lot of that weight on our quarterback. I think our quarterbacks do a really good job orchestrating at the line of scrimmage, reading things as the games go on, where we’re able to be so successful with our play calling.”
Inside the 49ers’ locker room, a strong chemistry has been forged. That stems from Harbaugh, the methodical coach who knows when to be serious and to goof around.
“Coach Harbaugh, he’s a great coach, and he’s very, very intelligent,” Netter said. “Everybody has a ton of respect for the guy. He’s the kind of coach that you want to play hard for. He’s going to demand a lot out of you, but I think he gets a lot out of his players. I love working for him.”
After eight years of missing the postseason, Harbaugh has led the 49ers to a postseason berth in each of his first two seasons. This time, they reached the Super Bowl.
Netter and his teammates arrived in New Orleans on Sunday night. Practices, press conferences, and various events have taken up most of the schedule. In the little time Netter has enjoyed to himself, there are fans all over town waiting for autographs and pictures. Netter is soaking up the atmosphere around town.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Netter said. “Everything I’ve ever heard about the Super Bowl, it’s all that and more.”
For any football player, it’s a fantasy to reach the NFL, to represent your favorite team, and to be in the Super Bowl. Al Netter is experiencing that dream.
“I think it will really sink in that I’m in the Super Bowl when I run onto the field and warm up,” he said. “It’s going to be crazy.”