SANTA CLARA — Jarryd Hayne recalls his forgettable debut in what is often considered the pinnacle of rugby league and a premier sporting event back home in Australia, the State of Origin series.
With the world watching him under the lights on Monday night, Hayne fumbled away his very first NFL touch — and there was an eerie similarity to that moment in 2007 with New South Wales.
“I did a similar thing in Origin in my debut game. I gave away a try and I threw the ball when I shouldn’t have thrown the ball,” Hayne recalled. “It was kind of similar, like, ‘(Shoot), I didn’t want that to happen.'”
The 49ers rookie could be seen hollering at himself after fumbling his first punt return try in San Francisco’s 20-3 victory against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium. But the 27-year-old Hayne had no choice but to move on in a hurry as he was forced into backup running back duties in place of the injured Reggie Bush.
No matter that he was hardly perfect, Hayne’s first NFL game captivated his countrymen from some 7,000 miles away.
In fact, Hayne’s debut — and the weeklong mystery of whether he would or wouldn’t play — ranked as one of the top daily stories Down Under.
While folks back home might have panicked just a bit seeing Hayne’s mistake on the big stage, his teammates weren’t concerned.
“He came to the sideline and it wasn’t like everybody was harping on it. We know that’s something it’s not just because he’s a rookie, in certain instances you see veterans drop balls sometimes,” cornerback Kenneth Acker said Tuesday.
“We just surrounded him, everybody had the same level of respect for him and same level of confidence in him, so he went back out there with the same level of confidence.”
With the evening kickoff in Northern California’s Silicon Valley it was around lunchtime in Sydney, and Hayne dominated the headlines right along with Tony Abbott’s final speech as ousted Prime Minister.
Hayne’s game was broadcast live on subscription television in Australia, while Australian media outlets there and in the Bay Area offered blog posts and updates that have quickly gained popularity as Aussies do their best to learn about American football.
Hayne trended on Twitter from the moment he was listed among the 46 active players from the 53-man roster for game day and throughout the night, including that embarrassing fumble.
Unusually windy, Hayne gave no excuses for misjudging the ball and diving to try to secure it.
“I hadn’t seen it blowing like that before. That was a bit different. That’s not an excuse. We’ve got to catch those ones,” said Hayne, who quickly received a pep talk from special teams coach Thomas McGaughey Jr.
“They’re just saying, ‘On to the next job, don’t worry about it,’ and I wasn’t worrying about it,” Hayne said. “I just have to move forward, obviously disappointed, yeah on ‘Monday Night Football’, what worse could have happened, you know?”
Hayne wound up with four rushes for 13 yards with a 9-yard gain as his longest run, while also catching a 7-yard pass.
All week, coach Jim Tomsula stayed mum on whether Hayne would play. McGaughey made a point to mention how Hayne didn’t even lead the team in punt returns during an impressive preseason.
They have called him fearless and courageous for taking the chance on a new career. Last October, Hayne made the decision to chase an NFL dream.
Tomsula has long admired his athletic ability and gave Hayne two more chances on returns after the fumble.
“He’s right back out there. There’s a belief and a faith there,” Tomsula said Tuesday. “Play football. We have learning moments and we’ll learn from those learning moments. That’s it, next play. Let’s go back, let’s own it and move on.”
Hayne has another new fan in former 49ers owner and Hall of Fame finalist Edward DeBartolo Jr., who attended his first game at second-year, $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium.
“I watched the preseason and he’s quite an athlete,” DeBartolo said. “He’s going to make a difference. It’s great. … This kid, I think he’s the real deal.”
Notes: Bush was headed for an MRI on his injured left calf. Tomsula said Bush was walking well, but with a short week his status for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh is unclear. … Straight-shooter Tomsula on his approach: “I never lie on purpose.” … The 49ers had eight penalties for 57 yards — far too many for Tomsula. “We have to clean that up,” he said. “It’s not OK.”