With the NFL playoffs beginning and the San Francisco 49ers, the top-seeded team in the NFC, it harkens back to the franchise’s glory days in the 1990s. Football fans of the that era can recall a time where there was a game that, in many ways, came with more hype than the Super Bowl itself: battles between the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, be it in the regular season or the playoffs, would set the victor up for the inside track to a World Championship.
Nate Singleton remembers. How could he ever forget? Singleton, now an assistant football coach and track and field coach at Hahnville High School, was right in the middle of it, playing for the 49ers from 1993 to 1996, earning a Super Bowl ring along the way.
Singleton, a wide receiver and return specialist, joined San Francisco just as that rivalry reached its peak. The Cowboys had bested the host 49ers in the NFC Championship of the 1992 season, just before Singleton was drafted out of Grambling. The Cowboys continued to be the 49ers’ nemesis, winning the next two matchups between the teams, a 26-17 decision in the regular season of Singleton’s rookie year, then in the NFC Championship Game later that season, 38-21.
“We kinda knew all along what it would come down to,” Singleton said of the fateful 1994 season, his second in the league. “We knew the Dallas Cowboys would be in our way. They beat us in 92, beat us in 93. We knew they’d be there and we knew we’d be there.”
San Francisco loaded up for a championship push, signing stars like Deion Sanders, Ken Norton Jr.—taking Norton from the Cowboys, at that — Richard Dent and Rickey Jackson, among others. With Hall of Fame talent like Steve Young and Jerry Rice to lead the way already in house, San Francisco was more than prepared to vanquish the rival Cowboys. The 49ers earned a 21-14 win that regular season to seal up home field advantage, then bested Dallas 38-28 in the NFC Championship.
The San Diego Chargers offered little resistance from there, San Francisco besting them 49-26 en route to a Super Bowl championship. Singleton, who specialized as a third down receiver for the 49ers, saw action in the game and helped his team to the crown.
“It’s an amazing feeling. You pinch yourself, watching today, to make sure it’s real, knowing you’re one of the few to have that Super Bowl ring,” Singleton said. “That you’re part of that fraternity. It symbolized hard work and dedication, because you sacrifice so much to get to that point. The commitment you make to one another as teammates … it was all such an amazing experience.”
He also dealt with adversity as a pro. His career was halted prematurely due to a hip dislocation. After four years with the 49ers, he spent time with the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens before walking away from the game.
“It was tough,” said Singleton, now 51. “There’s a transition every athlete has to make when you realize you don’t have the ability to play at a high level anymore, be it through age of injury. Make no mistake, the NFL is a young man’s league.”
He had no intentions of coaching, however, when he first left the game. Singleton returned home to Louisiana, in part to take up his injury rehabilitation efforts with Bryan Soulie, who he had long trained with.
“When I got injured, I knew where I wanted to go,” Singleton said. “He’s a pro. He got me back where I wanted to be. Obviously, after a serious injury like that, though, nobody really wants to touch you, NFL wise. There’s that question mark, so that was where that ended. The transition was tough, but I’m having a blast now.”
He got into coaching in 2010, joining the staff of Lou Valdin at Hahnville after working with Mackie Shilstone in athletic performance training.
“I did that for years, and we trained pro athletes at Tulane,” Singleton said. “One evening, we were training some athletes and Hahnville came on to take part in a 7 on 7 competition. Coach Valdin and I knew each other and he told me, if I ever got the chance, he’d love to have me on board. I called him up some time after and took him up on that, and I’ve been going ever since.
“Now, under Coach Salt (Nick Saltaformaggio) and Principal Brian Lumar, they gave me the opportunity to come back, and I’m grateful for that. It’s become my way of giving back.”
He never planned to go into coaching, but it’s become part of him. His style of relating to players, he said, draws inspiration from the late, famed Eddie Robinson, who Singleton played under at Grambling.
“I knew I’d do anything in the world for him, and I never really heard him yell,” Singleton said. “He believed in me, and I never wanted to let him down. That was enough. So you go on, embody that feeling and make it part of who you are. The expectations others have for you should never override the expectations you have for yourself.”
It’s all been a path Singleton’s traveled to arrive at Hahnville, which he calls “truly my home now.”
“This community is wonderful, from these coaches to our principal to our parish president and school board … and the people here as a whole,” Singleton said. “I don’t call this a job. It’s an amazing experience where I get to get up every day and have the opportunity to impact a young person’s life.”