Brian Jennings the 'Jedi Knight of snapping'
"Long-snapper is one of those positions that if your name ever gets said it's a bad thing," quarterback Alex Smith said Wednesday. "You're just expected to do your job out there and that's it, and he does that. He takes so much pride in doing his job and how he goes about it. A model of consistency."
Jennings is an outspoken NFL specialist with some serious longevity – and he is having a ball being part of a winner again this season for the 49ers. San Francisco improved to 10-2 and clinched the NFC West championship with last Sunday's 26-0 win against St. Louis.
"Everything," Jennings said of how much it means to get back to the playoffs. "That's what makes losing so hard. When you have losing seasons, they're dog years – you know, 7-1. It just ages you back. It's miserable. It's hard. Fortunately we've been able to get back on the winning track."
Jennings is the only one in the locker room who can remember when things were last rolling like this, because he is the lone player still around from the franchise's last playoff run in 2002.
"In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, absolutely," Jennings said, reflecting in the locker room before a recent practice. "We had a lot of veteran guys. We had a lot of fun. We worked hard in practice. We goofed off a lot but then on game day we were serious and won football games. A lot of laughing. A very confident group."
An unassuming veteran who has made his living under the radar for more than a decade with the 49ers, Jennings has survived through five head coaches and years of failure and frustration.
He survived that silly shaving mishap a couple of months back, too.
"I had the clippers and some straggly eyebrows and went voom, just shaved it off," Jennings explained. "I had to quickly figure out what I was going to do, so I shaved off the other one to make them symmetrical, the outside two-thirds. It worked out. I decided to put a picture of it on Twitter as a character test in not taking myself too seriously.
"If you ever want to challenge yourself, shave off your eyebrows, post it on Facebook and Twitter and find out what you're made of."
First-year coach Jim Harbaugh didn't need the eyebrow incident to form a strong opinion about Jennings. The two share an affinity for reading – preferably books dealing in history, war, or anything else they might be able to relate to their hard-nosed sport.
"He's not a Padawan learner. He's not an apprentice. He's a full-fledged Jedi Knight," Harbaugh said. "He's like a Jedi Knight of snapping the football. He brings a leadership, too. An experience, a calmness, a guy that understands making good decisions. Cool under pressure. He's somebody with a lot of dynamic perspective on football. I think that guys are showered with those kinds of virtues around here. I know I am. So many things."
A 12th-year pro out of Arizona State, the fact Jennings has generated a comparison from Harbaugh is really saying something. Harbaugh hates making comparisons.
"I'm flattered to be considered a Jedi Knight," Jennings said. "High praise."
For everything the franchise has endured since Jennings arrived, the success this season is all the more rewarding for San Francisco's longest-tenured player. And he has 13-month-old son Jackson – named after Jennings' grandfather who died after his rookie year of 2000 – to share this with.
While Jennings hasn't spent much of his energy worrying about what went wrong during an eight-year playoff drought, he is thrilled to be part of a turnaround at last under Harbaugh. San Francisco also went without a winning season during that stretch.
The 35-year-old Jennings is sincerely happy for all of the postseason first-timers who will join him on the big stage next month, when San Francisco hosts a home game at Candlestick Park. He's not above offering praise to past coaches and personnel executives for the roster moves they made that are paying off now.
"We have a lot of guys who have been around and have a lot of playoff experience, Super Bowl experience. I just happened to be here the whole time," he said. "I think a lot of players chase winning, so when they come up and they're free agents they'll try to go to a team they think might be winning in the next few years. The 49ers gave me a chance. I want to be here, I still want to be here. I survived the drought, I guess, is the story."
It was Steve Mariucci – five head coaches ago – who led the Niners to a 10-6 record and a stunning 39-38 victory in January 2003 over the New York Giants in the NFC wild-card game. But Mooch was gone by the next season, replaced by Dennis Erickson.
Jennings said of the initial mindset, "`Oh yeah, we're back,' but we kind of had to restart that next year with Erickson."
Just when Jennings thought things were headed in the right direction came more transition. Change has defined this franchise ever since. From coaches to offensive coordinators to starting quarterbacks.
Finally, with Harbaugh in charge, the latest change has made an immediate impact.
Jennings insists he won't look back on this season until he is home once things are all over. For now, he is appreciative.
"You look up at your coaching staff, your front office and say, `Thanks for bringing us together,"' Jennings said. "Because everyone works hard. Getting those wins makes your career, makes your season, makes it all worth it. …
"I think you have to give all the credit to the people that hired Coach Harbaugh, the people that Coach Harbaugh hired. With the free agents that have come here and the way this team jelled so quickly, there's a lot of credit that needs to be handed out."
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