Talanoa Hufanga’s fourth-quarter interception was the knockout punch in the 49ers’ decisive Week 1 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While running the interception back, Hufanga tried to lateral the ball to fellow safety Tashaun Gipson but just narrowly incurred an illegal forward pass penalty.
After the game, Hufanga spoke about how his improvisation was inspired by one of his heroes.
“Fred made a great play. I just happened to be right there," Hufanga said. “I was trying to overlap and help him out. Just had to come down with the ball, catch it, and run. Saw Gip and was just trying to give it to him so we can score. I knew there was a lineman trying to tackle me, and I was just trying to make a play.
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“I thought he was a little bit further behind me, so I tried to pitch it and take the hit so he could keep running. I saw Troy [Polamalu] do that a lot in this stadium, so I just tried to do something he would do.”
Hufanga then reflected on what it meant to him to record an interception in the same stadium he watched one of his idols dominate in for over a decade.
“It was incredible, kind of shocking that I’m playing here. We talked about it all offseason how it was going to be a surreal moment. He just gave me all the confidence in the world to go out there and play the game that I love to the best of my ability.
San Francisco 49ers
“I talked to [Polamalu] a couple of days ago, and he told me to be on it, stay on it, read your keys, and understand that this game is going to come down to the wire. We treat it like it’s zero to zero every quarter that we go into. At the end of the day, we have to win every quarter.”
Hufanga’s performance to open the season was an appropriate ode to Polamalu, as the 49ers' All-Pro safety picked up right where he left off after a dominant 2022 season.