Hayworth’s Opinion: 49ers strike gold with East Valley rookie

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy is an East Valley native who played at Perry in Gilbert. (Courtesy Terrell Lloyd/49ers.com)

By J.D. Hayworth

Hall of Fame catcher and noted clubhouse philosopher Yogi Berra offered a mathematically dubious calculation to describe the “mind games” within our national pastime. You might call it “Yogi’s Law.”

“Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”

Brock Purdy plays a different professional sport in a different era, but he probably would not deny the larger truth preceding Berra’s computation — especially in the wake of the Queen Creek native’s remarkable rookie season in the NFL.

Brock’s improbable rise from third-team reserve to San Francisco’s starting quarterback — with his successful string of seven straight victories — is the stuff of storybooks. 

As this column is being written, Purdy and his 49er teammates are preparing to visit Philadelphia to play the Eagles for the NFC Championship.

Dizzying heights, for sure… especially for his first year in pro football. But instead of a storybook, Purdy relies on the Good Book, and the Bible has imbued him with wisdom beyond his 23 years.

“Everything happens for a reason; it’s all a lesson from the Lord,” Brock has said.

A few hard knocks have supplemented Scripture and kept him humble.

Mononucleosis sidelined Purdy for the first three games of his junior season at Perry High and affected his standing among major college recruiters, who initially displayed minor interest. Then the big schools saw Brock’s big numbers in passing yardage for the Pumas and pounced with cat-like quickness — especially Alabama, which upped its offer from “preferred walk-on” to full scholarship.

Tuscaloosa ain’t Tinseltown, but the Crimson Tide’s head coach then appeared to take a page from the unnamed Hollywood casting director who reportedly said of Fred Astaire, “Can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.” 

 During Brock’s campus visit to Alabama, Nick Saban didn’t mince words, telling Purdy, “You’re below average in height. Your arm strength is whatever. Your accuracy is average.”

Whether it was candor meant to inspire Purdy or confusion with another recruit, Saban’s unvarnished assessment certainly proved motivational. It motivated Brock Purdy to pass on the perennial national power, take a close look at Texas A & M and finally choose Iowa State.

Purdy’s four years as a Cyclone were a whirlwind. Foreshadowing his NFL experience, he began his freshman season as a third-stringer, but soon became the starter, opening eight games and ending up with the sixth-best pass rating in the NCAA. His second season brought second-team All Big 12 Honors, and he was first team All-Conference his final two years.

April of last year brought another transition and an action some might consider an insult — or, as Yogi Berra might have called it, “Deja vu all over again.”

Purdy’s name was called at the NFL Draft but was the last name called and that final pick came with a nickname that is less than complimentary.

When San Francisco selected him with the 262nd — and concluding — pick of the draft, Purdy earned the title “Mr. Irrelevant.”

What might seem insulting at first glance was actually initiated as an honor. The late Paul Selata, who starred as a receiver first at Southern Cal and later with the 49ers, thought the last player picked should receive an “accolade” similar to the top selection.

So Selata began “Irrelevant Week” in 1976, bringing the bottom selection to Newport Beach, California, for a trip to Disneyland, a golf tournament, a regatta, and a celebrity roast, where “Mr. Irrelevant” is awarded the “Lowsman Trophy” — the opposite of the Heisman — get it?

There is a higher purpose to the “exercise in irrelevancy” — raising funds for charities such as SPIN — Serving People In Need — so Brock and his family gladly made the trip.

Now Purdy and the Niners face this fundamental truth: They are one win away from the Super Bowl.

Berra would caution that “it’s not over ’til it’s over.”

But regardless of the outcome, for Brock Purdy, this is just the beginning.