TAMPA — Dashon Goldson says he had an appointment with his chiropractor in Santa Clara, Calif., three weeks ago (while serving a one-game suspension) when he decided to visit the headquarters of the 49ers, for whom the safety spent his first six seasons before signing a five-year, $41.5 million contract with the Bucs.
Not even the good doctor could fix the way Goldson has been bent out of shape over the $394,705 in penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits this season. What's more, it's rare for an active player to drop by and say hello to his former team — like dinner and a movie with your ex-wife.
"I'd never seen that before," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "But it was cool. It was natural. People were glad to see him. He was glad to see the guys. I had a chance to see him, give him a hug, and we talked for a little bit. It wasn't a big deal."
Goldson insists his heart wasn't left in San Francisco, although you could hardly blame him for wishing he had never left that other city by the bay. In his first season with the Bucs, he has endured an 0-8 start, a knee injury that forced him to miss 2½ games, two suspensions (one overturned on appeal) and three teammates contracting MRSA — and he has only one interception.
Meanwhile, the 49ers arrive at Raymond James Stadium today riding a three-game winning streak with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
"I don't regret my decision to come here at all," said Goldson, who played in last season's Super Bowl. "I think I'm in a great place, and I'm happy to be here. I'm going to be here locked down for a couple more years, and I'm excited about it.
"The (knee injury) … was hard. And the suspension was even harder. It was like, 'What's next?' Then you've got to get back into that football mode."
The Bucs defense has demonstrated its ability to dominate at times. It is eighth in the league against the run (103.7 yards per game) and leads the league with 21 interceptions.
Goldson has been pivotal in both aspects. He's fourth on the team in tackles with 56 and has forced a fumble. And although he has been upstaged in the secondary by rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks, who has three picks, his ability to lead younger players has been invaluable.
"What an intense, intense competitor he is. What a really bright guy he is. He's really bright and a good guy," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "You never know when you meet a guy on a recruiting trip. He seems like a good guy. We all have our best foot forward. But he really is a good guy, a good teammate, a guy who's fun to coach.
"I think he's meant a lot for our entire team. I think he brought a leadership, a sense of confidence, into our secondary, into our defense and, ultimately, into our whole locker room. He's a popular guy on the team."
What bothers Goldson is he has become the poster child for all that is wrong about tackling in the NFL. He insists he's not a dirty player, although his collection of penalties has at least served to soil his reputation.
He was fined $30,000 for a Week 1 hit on Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland. A one-game suspension for a hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles in Week 2 was overturned on appeal, but instead, he was fined $100,000. His hit on Falcons receiver Roddy White in Week 11 earned him a one-game suspension and forfeiture of a game check ($264,705).
"I remember being on the good side of it, hearing commentators, analysts talking about how perfect, how good, how I do it the right way," Goldson said of his tackling and hard hits. "And all of a sudden with the new (targeting) rule, I'm a dirty player, a nasty player, and I'm not playing the game how it's supposed to be played. That's ridiculous."
Niners officials can argue they don't miss Goldson. Eric Reid, a rookie safety from LSU taken 18th in the draft, is third in the fans' Pro Bowl voting and has three interceptions. But Goldson's worth has always gone beyond numbers. He mentors many of the young defensive backs.
"He's definitely worth the investment," Schiano said. "I'd do it over again in a heartbeat."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.