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For Curtis Buckley, a little knowledge went a long way

November 11, 1997

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Curtis Buckley has made a living in the NFL for five years running down under punts and kickoffs. So he’s memorized every rule about special teams.

That somewhat arcane knowledge worked to San Francisco’s benefit Monday night.

It happened early in the second quarter with the 49ers clinging to a 7-6 lead over Philadelphia. They were outgained 130-33 in the first quarter, and their offense was going nowhere.

Then Tommy Thompson dropped back to punt from his own 37.

His kick sailed downfield toward Philadelphia’s Freddie Solomon, who raised his hand for a fair catch. As the ball got to Solomon, Buckley slammed into Tim McTyer of the Eagles, who stumbled back into Solomon.

The ball came loose, Buckley fell on it at the Philadelphia 26, and four players later Garrison Hearst went into the end zone from a yard out to give the 49ers a 14-6 lead and all the momentum. They scored again a few minutes later on Chuck Levy’s 73-yard punt return, and the game was all put over.

``A lot of guys don’t know the rules, but I make a living on special teams, and knowing the rules gives me an edge,″ said Buckley, signed as a free agent by San Francisco last season after three years with Tampa Bay, specifically for his ability to cover kicks.

The rule specifies that if a player making a fair catch is hit by his own teammate, anything can happen. It was never explained by officials to the fans, who booed the call, thinking that Buckley had run into a player making a fair catch.

Even Solomon and McTyer acknowledged that’s not what happened. McTyer said he couldn’t hear because of the crowd noise and wasn’t even aware that he was near Solomon.

Solomon knew it, but couldn’t do anything about it.

``I was yelling for Tim to get out of the way, but he didn’t hear,″ Solomon said. ``I had it clean until Tim or whoever came back into me. The ref said my guy ran into me and that’s all he kept saying.″

That’s the same thing the officials told Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes after he protested.

``From my view, he didn’t have enough time to catch the ball,″ Rhodes said.

But Buckley, a defensive back who has started only two games of the 62 he’s been active for in the NFL, knew that if Buckley wasn’t fair game, McTyer was.

``If a guy’s in front of me, I can push through,″ he said.

``If they can’t get him out of the way, that’s their problem.″

For Philadelphia, it was the biggest problem on a forgettable evening.

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