49ers opener has special meaning for Crabtree

SANTA CLARA — Michael Crabtree hawked bags of popcorn and hot dogs in the stands at old Texas Stadium as a boy.

The star wide receiver who worked concessions at Dallas games beginning at age 6 and who considered himself pretty good at it, will go home this weekend to face the Cowboys in a season opener that takes on even more meaning.

He has purchased 70 tickets for his family members to attend Sunday’s game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“I think my family’s more excited than I am,” Crabtree said Thursday. “Going back from selling popcorn and hot dogs in the stands for the Cowboys and being able to play them, that’s a big change.”

The 49ers’ 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech, Crabtree returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a calf issue. There’s no way he is missing this one, especially after he was sidelined for the first 11 games last season recovering from a torn right Achilles tendon.

Crabtree, who turns 27 on Sept. 14, has waited six seasons for his first NFL game back home in Dallas.

“That’s where he’s from,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It’s definitely a big deal to him.”

If he can stay healthy, Crabtree hopes to put together a season much like his breakout year in 2012.

Crabtree emerged as Colin Kaepernick’s top target that year and had career bests of 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. They quickly found their rhythm again when the wideout came back last December, and hope to pick up where they left off.

He tore his right Achilles tendon during 7-on-7 drills in an organized team activity on May 21, 2013, then had surgery. Crabtree impressed everybody with not only his remarkable return but his productivity without a drop-off despite the rigors of rehab.

“He’s ready to go,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “He’s a true professional. Mike played last year when he came back in a tough situation for some. He went out, gutted it out and helped us win a lot of football games. And that’s what we’re looking forward to this year.”

Kicker Phil Dawson also grew up in Dallas. He will be reunited with his wife and three children, who live in Texas during the school year while he is in the Bay Area.

He can imagine Crabtree’s motivation this week.

“It’s awesome. Week 1’s exciting anyway, any way you slice it, but especially when you go home to your hometown. Obviously, you always want to play well. I’m sure he’ll be geeked up, as well as the rest of us who are from Texas,” said the 39-year-old Dawson, who purchased 50 tickets for his first game back in Dallas but now leaves everybody to buy their own.

While there has been talk of a contract extension for Crabtree, he’s not touching that subject with the season underway.

“All I think about is football. I don’t worry about all that. I’ll let it handle itself,” he said. “I wish I could talk to you about the contract but I can’t.”

He has no problem talking about all his old favorite Cowboys: Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper. He sees some of each of those stars in his game and approach.

“I’m pretty much myself,” he said. “You can get little things from guys, some similarities. If you see me going up on a jump ball, I would say I’m like Alvin Harper. If you see me in the middle catching a ball, I’d say I’m more like Michael Irvin. Those guys are great.”

Crabtree reminded everyone he will be in town for an NFL game, not a reunion, and must stay focused on work first. And he won’t have time to reflect too much on his days in the stands with his youth football teammates. He brought home autographs, towels and more.

“I was the only Little League player with NFL gear on,” he said.

NOTES: Defensive tackle Ray McDonald practiced for the second straight day, though he was tardy again. McDonald was arrested Sunday for investigation of felony domestic violence. The team hasn’t said whether he will play Sunday, though both Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have said they will let the legal process play out. … Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Michael Wilhoite will start at linebacker and the cornerbacks will be Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, with rookie Jimmie Ward in the nickel spot.

How the Warriors use data, analytics to engineer more wins

‘It is a new Moneyball’

By Jeff Elder
Why Steph Curry is the NBA’s leading MVP candidate

It’s never too early to speculate on the league’s top prize

By John Krolik Special to The Examiner
Are the Niners back in the playoff chase?

San Francisco desperately needed past two wins to keep hopes alive