Erik Bakhtiari has been the picture of resolve for the last four years. But after getting cut for the ninth time -- and the third time by the 49ers -- three weeks ago, he began to waver.
"You try to have the best outlook on it," Bakhtiari, 27, said Thursday. "You try to sit there and have confidence in yourself. But I think there also comes a time when you take what you do well and take it to a different field."
That self doubt lasted two days. After that, it was back to the weight room and back to waiting for a phone call from an NFL team in need of a linebacker. The call came Tuesday after the 49ers learned that newly signed outside linebacker Clark Haggans would be suspended for the next three games in relation to DUI convictions in 2004 and 2011.
The 49ers didn't tell Bakhtiari how long he'd be around or what his role would be while Haggans serves the suspension. "They said, 'Come in and compete,'" he said. "And that's what I do best."
Bakhtiari led the 49ers with 2 ½ sacks during the exhibition season and he finished second in total tackles. The 49ers, however, decided to go into the season with just three outside linebackers, then signed Haggans, 35, after Parys Haralson was lost for the year with a torn triceps.
Bakhtiari said no one ever had told him he was good enough to play in the NFL until Jim Harbaugh said so when Bakhtiari was a freshman at the University of San Diego and Harbaugh was his coach. It was Harbaugh who delivered the bad news to Bakhtiari three weeks ago. And it was Harbaugh's message that made Bakhtiari decide to stick with the sport.
"'You did everything you could do. You did a great job,'" Bakhtiari said Harbaugh told him. "He was proud of the effort I put in, proud with what I accomplished. ... It made it harder. I really wish he had been like, 'Listen, football's not for you.' That would have been easier. Then I could have said, 'Ok, I'm not meant to do this.'"
The journeyman linebacker had lived in a spare bedroom at tackle Joe Staley's house during the offseason. After being cut, he moved back in with his parents in Burlingame. But he left all of his stuff at Staley's, and he's moving back in today.
"I took a couple of days to get my thoughts together and recalibrate. And then it was like, OK, I really want to keep after this thing. It's a long journey. It's a long way to get to your individual goal. I'll keep going until it absolutely ends."
-- Matt Barrows