49ers Donte Whitner, when asked about the several hours he (allegedly) believed he was a Cincinnati Bengal before signing with the 49ers, takes a moment to explain that fateful day in 2011.
Remember when Donte Whitner signed with the Cincinnati Bengals? Sure you do. It's hard to believe that two seasons have passed since Whitner sent out his highly cited tweet that could have contributed with a significant impact for a Bengals defense starving for a safety. Around the chaos of the NFL lifting its lockout, Johnathan Joseph had moved on to the Houston Texans, and the Bengals were making a handful of signings on defense that included Nate Clements, Manny Lawson, and Thomas Howard. For a few brief hours in 2011, fans and media alike were welcoming then Bills safety Donte Whitner to the Queen City.
Then Whitner said he as a 49er.
It was the 2008 Shaun Rodgers acquisition-that-wasn't-an-acquisition all over again. Fan enthusiasm led to deflated reality. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy was able to get a few words from Whitner, who is now preparing for the Super Bowl on Sunday (fancy that!), regarding his notable flip-flop:
"It was a little miscommunication and me changing my mind. I knew that I had both teams, the Bengals and 49ers, and it was kind of a money issue for a minute and then I talked to Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and he wanted me to come there and help lead this team. My agent actually represents a lot of players on this defense from Aldon (Smith), Jason (Smith) and Patrick (Willis). He felt it would be a good fit and we had the chance to do some special things. I had to make the call and I made it to San Francisco. It was more of a fit of scheme and the guys that I really wanted to play with and the guys who would be a good, solid defense."
A "little miscommunication," or Whitner changing his mind? Which was it? I think we can assume the latter, for the most part. So, is this closure? Maybe not. But did we really need it? Has the thought already passed? The Bengals moved on without Whitner, obviously. Reggie Nelson ended up reviving his career during the 2011 season, and while the Bengals haven't quite found a strong safety of Whitner's caliber, the defense as a whole managed to be a top ten unit again in 2012.
In the meantime, Whitner found success in San Francisco. He made his first Pro Bowl this year and there's a real possibility of him becoming a world champion this Sunday. Whitner turned down a Bengals team that was in turmoil with their franchise quarterback going M.I.A. and coming off of a 4-12 season, but let's not forget that the 49ers were a 6-10 team that had recently lost their head coach that same year.
It's hard to say that Whitner would have done for the Bengals what he's done for the 49ers. Different teams, different schemes. Let's also not forget that Whitner wasn't quite the same player in Buffalo. Either way, the whole several-hour-saga may be chalked up to "what could have been" in Cincinnati, but it's highly unlikely Whitner is dwelling on it today.