Anquan Boldin's other priorities include helping Ethiopians

NEW ORLEANS

Third and 8 is hard. Anquan Boldin can tell you all about the defensive backs who will tug and pull as a receiver tries to find space in traffic.

Catching the ball over the middle is hard. Boldin knows about that, too, the way safeties will attempt to separate a receiver from the football by the force of a collision.

Enduring a big loss is hard. The championship that got away, back when his Cardinals lost to the Steelers in Tampa's last Super Bowl, still gnaws at Boldin.

And so we complain. About this. About that. About everything. It is our nature, a sport unto itself.

But not Boldin.

Not anymore. Not since his trip to Ethiopia, which seems about a million miles from the Super Bowl and the cameras that follow Boldin's every step.

It was March when Boldin and former Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald flew to Ethiopia, a poor, dry country. Boldin had read something about the struggles of the Ethiopian people and decided he wanted to help.

"I didn't want to just cut a check," Bol­din said. "I wanted to experience it for myself. I wanted to see what the conditions were.

"I can try to explain it to you, but unless you see it for yourself, you really can't grasp the situation. They're going through one of the worst droughts ever. It's barely rained in three years. There is no water to grow vegetation, no water to drink. Everything is like desert. For people in the United States, it's hard to wrap your mind around that."

For more than a week, Boldin and Fitzgerald stayed. Not many people they met knew who they were or much about the sport they played. But everyone knew they were there to help. They met with officials. They watched classes being taught about farming in arid conditions. And they helped to build retaining walls.

"We weren't over there just to watch," Boldin said. "It's hard. People make about 90 cents a day there. I remember one man who had a wife and six kids, and he had to walk three hours to work each way to start at 8 a.m. Three of his kids worked in the morning, and three went to school. At night, they reversed it. It was the only way they could make it."

Now … who wants to talk about the 49ers secondary?

Every now and then, you come across an athlete who is about more than the touchdowns in his statistics. Every now and then, you find a player who finds a way to make someone else's life better.

Boldin, the former Florida State star? He's a tough player, a fine receiver, a fierce competitor. Also, he bought villagers a cow.

How many receivers can say that?

Oh, Boldin can play some football, too. He has quietly passed the 10,000-yard mark in receiving in his 10-year career. Who else makes more catches that look like rebounds? Who else is as willing to go over the middle to catch a pass?

In New York, they still talk about the hit Boldin took from Jets safety Eric Smith back in 2008, when Boldin was with the Cardinals. Four days later, Boldin had surgery for a fractured sinus membrane, a procedure that took seven plates and 40 screws to fix. He only missed two games.

"I just looked at it as a freak accident," Boldin said. "I've played football a lot of years, but that's one hit out of thousands. It wasn't a big deal to me.

"I'm not a wide receiver. I'm a football player. Receivers go out and catch the ball. I'm willing to do anything it takes to win the game."

For Boldin, this game matters more than most.

He had a shot in that previous Super Bowl in 2009, after all. The Cardinals had taken a late lead, and Boldin was on the sideline when the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger led his team from behind.

"I've talked to our team about that," he said. "You don't want to get this close and let it slip away. I remember how they herd you off the field so the winning team can celebrate. You don't want that."

In other words, Sunday's game is important to Boldin. It just isn't the only thing that is important.

"The thing I learned in Ethiopia was to be grateful," said Boldin, who is from Pahokee on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. "I had it hard growing up but nothing like that. The best thing about my childhood was that I was poor, but I didn't know I was poor because everyone around me was poor."

Now, Boldin, 32, finds himself in a different economic sphere, and he wants to help. He has another trip planned to Ethiopia. He has worked with Oxfam, an international organization.

"When you see someone in that situation, you want to help," he said. "I'm in a position where I can. If I'm in front of a camera, people will listen."

Boldin paused. Then he smiled.

"You know one of the things I remember?" he said. "No matter how hard their situation is, you always see them with a smile. No one is complaining. People are willing to work, willing to make themselves better."

Remember that when you watch Boldin play Sunday. Yeah, he makes the Ravens better.

Everyone else, too.

Anquan Boldin's other priorities include helping Ethiopians 01/31/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 11:29pm]

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