For Costanzo, different is a good thing

For Costanzo, different is a good thing

Published Jan. 19, 2012 6:07 p.m. ET

Because they're no longer living in football anonymity, we now know what seems to drive the San Francisco 49ers kickoff team into a pre-kick dancing frenzy is a rap song called "Tony Montana."

Blake Costanzo, the guy often in the middle of that moving pile, still dances to his own beat.

He fits the 49ers quite nicely.

The NFL is down to its final four – Championship Weekend. And based on recent history, the team hosting the NFC Championship Game is the least likely to remain. Costanzo, a special teams demon who played in his first playoff game last weekend, might represent the single longest shot among the more than 200 players still suiting up for practice this week.

Not many other players broke into the league by making and distributing their own college highlight tapes, playing in NFL Europe and bouncing from waiver wire to practice squad. Costanzo has stuck around by becoming one of the league's best kick cover men, a standing he affirmed last week by forcing a fumble and recovering another – both led to points – in the 49ers' wild win over the Saints.

A linebacker by trade – one who's a step too slow and at least an inch too short by NFL standards – Costanzo came out of Lafayette College asking only for a shot. He went to camp with the Jets and Bills, played in the spring of 2007 for the Rhein Fire in Germany and was promoted to Buffalo's active roster at the end of the '07 season.

He's now one win from playing in the Super Bowl.

"It's not personal redemption, that's not the right word," Costanzo said. "I just think my family always told me to keep doing the right thing, and everywhere I've been I've always given my all. I've kept that mindset. Any setback I've had I just looked at it like a new opportunity. It's more gratitude to have this chance than redemption."

Costanzo became a regular with the Bills' kick coverage teams in 2008, then signed -- and shined -- with the Browns in 2009. When he got to the Browns, he rented an apartment and slept on a futon – partly because he initially wasn't sure he'd stick in Cleveland, and partly because he has other priorities.

Football, mostly.

"I feel alive when I step between those lines," Costanzo said.

When the NFL lockout ended last summer, Costanzo was a free agent. He got a call from 49ers special teams coach Brad Seely, who came to San Francisco after serving the same job the previous two seasons in Cleveland. It was a call Costanzo hoped for, but couldn't guarantee would come. All he asked from Seely was a commitment that the 49ers would make special teams a priority.

When Seely assured him the 49ers would, he was on the next flight. He didn't bring his futon.

"I bought myself a little queen-sized mattress for the apartment," Costanzo said. "It's on the floor. I don't have the whole setup. But I do have a mattress now."

It might help to be a little, um, different when it comes to embracing the high-speed collisions NFL kickoffs and punts bring as part of Costanzo's career choice – and different has been very good to him so far. While many of his teammates wear their finest high-dollar suits when road trip dress code goes formal, Costanzo still likes to wear a tie with one of his favorite plaid or flannel shirts.

"And some crazy socks," he said. "That's just me."

He's mastered those collisions, at least as much as a guy generously listed at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds can. Costanzo was selected as the alternate for the special teams player spot on the NFC's Pro Bowl team this year, though he hopes to be busy preparing for the Super Bowl even if the call comes. He's been a guest at the Pro Bowl before, in 2009 as a reward for blocking for Browns return man Joshua Cribbs.

The 49ers' Cleveland connection doesn't just include Costanzo and Seely. Two Cleveland natives, Donte Whitner and Ted Ginn, Jr., are former first-round picks also playing in the postseason for the first time, and Costanzo now blocks for Ginn in the return game. The roster is full of guys on this stage for the first time, and Costanzo said it's full of guys who are truly enjoying the ride.

"I haven't seen another team in the NFL where, after every play, you see everybody up on the sidelines picking guys up and cheering guys on," he said. "That's offense, defense, special teams, we all feed off that energy.

"I've been on losing teams where you get to the end of the year and guys are starting to pack their stuff up and think about getting home. This year, even when we went away for the bye week, it was like guys couldn't wait to get back to work."

Costanzo said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has stressed this week that his players need to treat Sunday's game vs. the Giants like any other game. But Constanzo has admitted he's been thinking Super Bowl before hitting that mattress at night.

He's a little bit crazy – and very, very grateful.

"I wouldn't change a thing, from Europe to Lafayette to whatever," he said. "Every minute I learned something from the whole journey. Last year was the first time I've ever been injured and I learned from that. That killed me not being out there.

"Being where I am and we are as a team now, I know how special it is. I know it can be over any minute. You're going to see nothing but full speed from me while it lasts."

Chartered team flights to the Super Bowl leave in a little over a week. The 49ers are certainly hoping to have one for the guy in plaid.