SANTA CLARA — Linebacker Tavares Gooden has been known to get down and start strumming an air guitar before practice.
From Bruce Springsteen to Bob Seger, from country to hip hop, and rap, rock and R&B, the San Francisco 49ers are getting nearly as much variety through their impressive sound system during workouts as they are in coach Jim Harbaugh’s creative offense.
No doubt these playoff-bound Niners are feelin’ groovy.
And it sure beats the crowd noise that gets pumped into a lot of practices around the NFL to prepare teams for loud, hostile road environments.
“We just jam,” defensive line coach Jim Tomsula said. “It’s cool. It’s crowd noise but I’ve got to admit, it’s fantastic.”
Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, from American Samoa, requested an island favorite by oceanic group Te Vaka. He also gets a kick out of the chanting of New Zealand’s traditional tribal war music, Haka. That’s just a start.
“This year is totally different because this is what has been missing for the last four or five years,” said Sopoaga, whose team ended an eight-year playoff drought and stretch without a winning record. “Guys can open up with what we want so we can practice better, other than people holding it from us. It’s meant to be. It’s great fun, and that’s why we’re out there in practice running around and having fun, doing everything textbook-wise. Everything we’re doing in practice we’re doing on game day.”
Linebacker Patrick Willis wanted “Lean on Me” and heard it played. Right guard Anthony Davis has recommended a few of his favorite rappers. One of injured wide receiver Joshua Morgan’s favorites — Future’s “Tony Montana” — has become the anthem for the special teams unit, and it now plays on game days at Candlestick Park.
There have been the Christmas classics and patriotic melodies for Veteran’s Day. Jeff Ferguson, director of football operations and sports medicine, accepts suggestions for the wide-ranging playlist.
“I kind of like the fact that he’s constantly switching up,” quarterback Alex Smith said of “Fergie,” as he’s known. “Some days it’s oldies or hard rock, some days it’s 80s, it’s rap, hip hop. It’s just such a mix every day. It’s nice. It pumps a little extra energy into practice.
“You just get so tired of the ‘Ahhhhhh!,’ that white noise. It’s nice to have something that changes it up.”
Willis isn’t choosy about his ditties.
“I just trust his judgment,” Willis said of Ferguson. “He’s up on point when it comes to music. You just never know what’s going to pop up on there. I’ve never heard anybody complain about the music. We mostly use it as crowd noise, so it’s for a bigger purpose.”
And the 49ers might have a new one to pipe in now: Bay Area rapper “Bailey” has released a new song inspired by Harbaugh’s regular cheer of “Who’s got it better than us? No-body!”
“I’m buying in,” linebacker Parys Haralson said of the music mix. “I don’t know who makes those recommendations, but I like it. I don’t care. As long as it gets us going we’re good. I just like whatever sounds good.”
And with the state-of-the-art sound system featuring concert-size speakers that Harbaugh had delivered back in October from an old Stanford contact, the 49ers’ blaring music can be heard from blocks away. In fact, Kyle Williams’ big brother, Kenny, can listen in from his home less than a mile from team headquarters.
At the time, Harbaugh said he had been working for eight weeks to make the upgrade for “a louder music system.”
“There’s a little bit of everything for everybody,” punter Andy Lee said.
Even veteran wide receiver and return man Ted Ginn Jr. has become more open-minded about music.
“It’s great to go out and hear different things and different cultures of music throughout the practice,” Ginn said. “It’s kind of amazing how something you might not listen to all the time can get you going or something you might hear for the first time that somebody else might have known, and we all relate on it. There’s a good thing to it.”
The 49ers have come so far in so many ways.
During training camp in 2010, former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye referenced how he enjoyed hearing George Gershwin’s “Summertime” during practice, performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong — saying, “I kind of dated myself with that deal.”
Harbaugh wouldn’t reveal his top picks for practice tunes, clearly leaving such important decisions to his players. He has plenty of other things on his mind at the moment for San Francisco (13-3), like studying game film on possible opponents Atlanta, New York and New Orleans for the NFC West champions’ first playoff game in nine years. The Jan. 14 game at Candlestick became a sellout shortly after tickets went on sale to the general public Tuesday morning.
“I guess Coach wants to keep it balanced and keep everybody happy,” center Jonathan Goodwin said.
Well, perhaps not quite everybody.
The rookies don’t have much say in the music — and cornerback Chris Culliver, for one, could do without some of the country music.
“I don’t love it,” he said with a smile.