When Al Davis chose speed over ego at the 2009 NFL Draft, a rivalry was born. Darrius Heyward-Bey became a Raider and just three picks later Michael Crabtree became a 49er.
Two fan bases who love to run smack on one another had a new talking point.
Two men who might not even know each other were suddenly pitted against one another.
DHB’s selection was the flash point of the draft. Every talking head and pseudo draftnik took turns bashing the pick like a piñata filled with draft busts. On the flip side, when the 9ers grabbed Crabtree, the pick was greeted with open arms.
Forget the fact that six other teams before the Raiders passed on Crabtree. Never mind that two teams after Oakland took a flier on the NFL’s next diva. Ignore the warning signs that Eric Mangini predicted. The fact of the matter is that the man who Mel Kiper called the best player in the draft didn’t hear his name called until two and a half hours had passed on draft day.
Still, you can’t ignore the Heyward-Bey vs. Crabtree debate.
Round one was an easy win for DHB. The book on Darrius was that he was a speed demon with questionable hands and a huge upside. Oh, he also had the reputation of being a hard worker. Not one to disappoint, Heyward-Bey held out for all of one day of training camp. After putting his John Hancock on contract guaranteeing him $23-million, it was time to go to work.
Crabtree, on the other hand, was prematurely branded as the greatest pass catcher to hit the Bay since Jerry Rice. His highlight reel at Texas Tech got more YouTube views than Kimbo Slice. It seemed as though the 49ers had landed a draft day steal. Then, Crabtree went Crabtree and lived up to his diva billing. The man selected 10th wanted to be paid more than the man selected 7th. And so he embarked on the worst contract holdout in NFL history.
Heyward-Bey 1, Crabtree 0
Round two proved to be a no-contest win for DHB again. The two receivers were slated to meet on the field of battle in August as the Raiders and 49ers participated in their annual pre-season Battle of the Bay. Hey-Bey didn’t catch a single pass in the game, not that he needed to in order to take the second round. By simply being in uniform and on the field he took an early lead in the battle.
Heyward-Bey 2, Crabtree 0
Six weeks into the season, Heyward-Bey has started every game of his young NFL career yet has just two catches for 36 yards. Most every other receiver selected in the first round has made an immediate impact. Even teammate Louis Murphy, a receiver picked in the fourth round, has impressed more than DHB. None the less, he still had an advantage over Crabtree.
Months later, Crabtree finally decided to end his pointless holdout and put pen to paper. Now comes word that Crabtree will be starting for the 49ers this Sunday when he makes his pro debut.
Heyward-Bey has been given a pass due to his misfortune of playing for a sub par offense. Unfortunately for him, time has run out. Now the criticism will come, especially if Crabtree laps him in just one game.
The jury will be out on this one for years as it is impossible to know anything about a player in one week let alone one season. No matter what, this scenario will either turn out to be a source of pride or pain for an entire fan base, if not both.
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