Some at Media Night would ask their questions and drift away, only to be replaced by a fresh batch of inquisitors ready to ask about the same thing. Some would be gentle, some would be direct. No matter what, all wanted to know something about the defensive end’s current feelings on his critical offsides penalty in the 2018 season’s AFC championship game.
Around 20 minutes in, when asked if he was tired of talking about the penalty, Ford briefly pierced his ever-present cheery attitude — but only for a second.
“Hell, yeah,” Ford said, emphatically, followed by a grin. “But naw, it’s cool. That’s part of it.”
And yes, with Ford’s 49ers set to face his old team, the Chiefs, in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, the truth is that he knew the questions were coming, especially after his offsides call nullified a game-ending interception in the AFC championship game a year ago against the New England Patriots.
But there’s something you should know about that play, something he spent the better part of an hour patiently explaining.
Ford has made his peace with it.
“Obviously, it’s an unfortunate play,” Ford told Yahoo Sports. “But part of being a pro is persevering — everyone makes mistakes, you gotta own them, move forward, and there’s nothing else you can do. I’m not an excuse maker, and neither is that team. They’re back and we’re back.”
Ford’s not wrong. Following his trade to the 49ers in March, when he promptly signed a five-year, $87.5 million extension, he has served a role as a pass-rushing specialist for a resurgent 49ers defensive line, tallying 6½ sacks in 11 games (two starts).
“They wanted me to come in and be who I was — they wanted to see that speed, they wanted to see that power,” Ford said. “Me and [Nick] Bosa were literally the missing pieces to what this d-line needed, and we all just complement each other.”
Ford has been limited for the better part of two months while dealing with a hamstring injury and knee tendonitis, but he has played in the Niners’ past two games and even recorded a sack in their divisional round win over Minnesota.
On the flip side, the player with whom the Chiefs effectively replaced Ford (Frank Clark) recorded eight sacks in 14 games this season, serving as an ideal edge setter in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme, a departure from the 3-4 system in which Ford posted career highs in sacks and pressures with Kansas City in 2018, only to end it on the worst of notes.
The penalty resonated in Kansas City, where people rushed to blame Ford for the loss on social media, despite the defense’s complete ineptitude on the other 96 plays that contributed to New England’s incomprehensible 524-yard outing. Reminders of the play have lingered in Kansas City, even after his March trade to San Francisco. After the Chiefs’ AFC championship game win over the Titans, Chiefs coach Andy Reid — who has repeatedly mentioned that the one penalty call didn’t cost the Chiefs the game — said that last year, they “were 4 inches short” against the Patriots. And during the leadup to the Titans game, Clark called lining up offsides “inexcusable.”
While the play has lived on in Kansas City infamy, Ford has moved on. And he has done so maintaining faith in himself, and keeping perspective.
“I’ve been through worse than that. I wasn’t even supposed to be playing [that year],” Ford said. “I came off my second back surgery that I had to beg my surgeon to do — he didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t even supposed to play last year. I had my second back surgery before that year, so nobody expected me to come back. I came into training camp and I was 25 pounds underweight. So you know, I’ve been through worse things than that. You have to block out the negative, focus on the positive.”
Still, when the Chiefs shifted to a new defense after the firing of coordinator Bob Sutton, the 49ers came calling, Ford was ready for a change of scenery. He joined an ascending team that remained competitive in 2018 without starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and one that added another difference-making bookend edge rusher in the draft.
“I felt like the chapter had been written in Kansas City, so I saw a lot of opportunity with [the 49ers’ defensive line]” Ford said. “My gut, it was just saying it was right. And I knew they had a good chance of drafting Bosa. It was a no-brainer, actually.”
And get this: Ford says Reid even wished him well on the way out.
“He told me ‘congrats on the new deal — you’re gonna make San Fran great again,’” Ford said. “I don’t know why people think we had bad blood; obviously, the chapter had been written. Andy’s a special human being. He understood where I was and he always did what he could to help, even when he wasn’t benefitting from it. That’s just the kind of man he is.”
So no, facing the Chiefs on Sunday won’t be contentious or weird for Ford, who was a first-round draft pick in 2014. However, it will be surreal. This is the Super Bowl matchup he has long hoped for, dating back three months ago when it became clear the Chiefs and 49ers might be the best teams in their respective conferences.
“I was anticipating this could be a real thing,” Ford said, “and the closer we got to it, I’m just like ‘Yo, this is really happening.’ So we’re here, and it still doesn’t feel real. But it will be real on Sunday night.”
With a strong game against his old team, Ford has a chance to further distance himself from the offsides questions.
“I don’t remember a player ever being in this situation,” Ford said. “I feel fortunate, and I’m going to make the most out of the opportunity.”
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