SALIDA It's not often that a member of the San Francisco 49ers comes to town.
Wait a minute ... yes, it is!
"Yeah, you've got one right down the street in Mr. Kaepernick," said former 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott, waving his hand southward.
In June, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who grew up in Turlock, was in Modesto to host the inaugural Against All Odds Golf Tournament at Del Rio Country Club. A few days later, 49ers offensive lineman Mike Iupati was in town to work out with the Davis High football team, which won a Gatorade-sponsored contest that awarded practice time with a pro.
But Lott is an NFL legend, a 2000 inductee into the Hall of Fame and, along with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, among the greatest 49ers ever.
And nearly 20 years after his NFL career ended, the Cupertino resident can still generate a buzz in these parts. A crowd of close to 300 was on hand at Modesto Christian High School to hear Lott speak about football, sacrifice and what it means to be successful on and off the field.
"I'm able to do this probably two or three times a year during the football season," said Lott, who looked ultra-cool in sunglasses, gray slacks and a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. "I had (NFL Hall-of-Famer) Deacon Jones come out and talk to my team growing up in Rialto. He shared his wisdom and told me to go out and be the best."
Lott certainly heeded Jones' advice. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl pick and named to the All-Pro first team eight times. He ranks sixth on the all-time list for career interceptions (63) and is a four-time Super Bowl champion.
And, of course, he is the owner of the most famous pinky in all of sports. Er, missing pinky.
Legend has it that after severely injuring his left pinky, the super-tough Lott against doctors' orders demanded to be sent back into the game. When they refused, he told them to cut off the injured digit and let him play.
Truth or myth?
(Die-hard Lott fans should skip the next two paragraphs.)
"No, that's one of those Paul Bunyan stories," said Lott. "There's a lot of rumors, like I supposedly keep the finger in a pickle jar. But, you know, like a lot of things in life, it inspires people, so ..."
Truth is, Lott returned to the game and the tip of the finger was amputated after the season.
(Welcome back, die-hards.)
Lott was asked to come to Salida by Rob Sauser with PMZ Real Estate in Modesto. Sauser and Lott have worked together attempting to sell 10 acres Lott owns in west Turlock. Sauser has had four children attend MC and he's an assistant coach for the MC Kingsmen youth team.
"In a short period of time, we connected on a great level," said Sauser. "You can just tell family is a priority to him. He's a quality guy and I feel privileged to work with him."
Lott was at the school for about two hours, addressing the Crusaders, Kingsmen, parents and fans. He passed around his four Super Bowl rings and then posed for pictures. During his speech and the ensuing Q&A session, which lasted roughly 15 minutes, Lott asked a question of MC junior Kory Mora.
"What does an inch mean to you?" he asked the Crusaders' center.
"Success," answered Mora.
The response seemed to please Lott, who stressed to players that inches add up, becoming yards, and that yards become miles.
He followed that with another, more personal, question for Mora.
"As a center, you don't fart on the quarterback's hands, do you?" asked Lott, eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd. "That's what Joe Montana always wanted to know. He wanted to know that he could trust his center."
When it was the players' turn to ask the questions, they came fast and furious.
Did he know how many tackles he made?
"Yeah, I made a lot."
Did he ever pick off a Montana pass in practice?
"I used to intercept Joe Montana all the time. And I intercepted him in college, when he was at Notre Dame."
Did he ever put another player in the hospital?
Lott had to be careful here. Along with former coach and broadcaster John Madden, he co-chairs a panel aimed at improving player safety. He admitted that a few foes probably ended up there, but stressed the importance of proper technique and overall safety. He did, however, share a story about a former college teammate.
"Hoby Brenner and I played together at USC," said Lott. "He was a tight end and he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints the same year as me. We were really good friends; his wife always used to make me cookies. Then, during a game, I knocked out Hoby Brenner.
"I never got cookies after that."