For veteran running back Reggie Bush, the decision to join the 49ers was all about opportunity.
Growing up in Spring Valley, Calif., a suburb just east of San Diego, Bush supported the hometown Chargers, but his real allegiance was to the 49ers. In 1995, the then 9-year-old had the opportunity to watch his two favorite teams square off in the Super Bowl XXIX, where the 49ers thrashed the Chargers 49-26.
“It was just a big deal for us in San Diego that the Chargers made it that far,” Bush said of the AFC West winners. “And I remember how badly they got beat.”
Steve Young was at the center of the beat down, uncorking a record six touchdown passes and stamping his name into the franchise's record book. Now the 30-year-old Bush aims to leave his own footprint here.
During the organized team activities in Santa Clara last week, Bush, clad in bright orange cleats, was flying around the practice fields and fielding punts at the team's training facility. Entering his 10th NFL season, Bush is at the point in his career where most veterans would rather not place themselves in the firing line this way.
Team brass didn't have to convince Bush to accept the assignment.
“It was my idea. I told the coaches I wanted to return punts again and they were excited,” Bush said. “I've done it my whole career.”
Bush has fielded 98 punts his career, but he hasn't served as a return man since 2011, which he spent with the Miami Dolphins.
“I didn't feel like I'm missing a beat or I've gotten rusty,” Bush said. “I'm excited. I just think it's another challenge for me and another opportunity for me to go out there and showcase my skills.”
Bush's willingness to chip in on special teams also provides the team with the chance to improve a punt return unit that was among the worst in the league a season ago. In 2014, only three teams averaged fewer yards per attempt.
When Bush isn't filling in as a return man, he will serve as a change-of-pace runner as well as a safety valve out of the backfield.
“I think what I bring to the table is kind of self-explanatory,” Bush said of his track record. “Me and Kap [quarterback Colin Kaepernick] are really starting to develop a good relationship and a good chemistry on the field. So, it's going to be my job to make him comfortable with me being out there. Comfortable enough to throw me the ball when he gets in trouble or needs a quick check down.”
The departed Frank Gore was one of Kaepernick's top check-down options when he needed to get bailed out of a bad spot. While Bush has plenty of admiration for the team's all-time leading rusher, he's an entirely different kind of runner than the bruiser who has an uncanny knack for crashing through holes don't seem to exist.
“Frank, what he did here was tremendous,” Bush said. “I've been a fan of Frank's, and watching what he's done over the years is very impressive. But for me, I never try to be someone else. I just try to be myself and give it my best and that's it. If I do that, and if I am who I know I can be, I think I'll be OK. I think we'll be OK.”
Right now, the 49ers need Bush to be the guy who revives the pass and return games. If he can do that, Bush might even get his name in the record book of the team that he rooted for as a kid.
“There's so much rich history that's come through here,” Bush said. “So, the fact that now I get the chance to come and play here is pretty surreal for me. I'm excited at this opportunity to go out and be a part of this organization and be a part of this team.”