The ringing phone stopped everyone in their tracks.
Chris Borland, the All-American Wisconsin linebacker out of Alter High School, was watching the first night of last week’s NFL draft on TV with his parents, Jeff and Zebbie, and his brother Mark in the family home on Avon Way in Kettering.
Being a low-key, private person, Borland didn’t want a lot of hoopla that first night because there was some uncertainty over just when he would be drafted.
Most experts speculated he’d go high in the second round — which would mean he would not be chosen until the second night of the draft — but there were a couple of folks who thought he might go a little higher than that and still others who saw him going in the third round.
So the anticipation was palpable in the Borland living room as the final picks of the first round were being made.
And that’s when Chris’s cell phone suddenly rang.
“Denver was on the clock and I had heard there was a possibility I might go there,” he said.
“We all just got real quiet and waited to see where he was going,” Zebbie said.
“I answered and said ‘hello?’ but I heard nothing,” Borland said. “I thought there wasn’t anybody on the other end, but then a couple of seconds later a guy says, ‘Oh, I think I have the wrong number.’ ”
Zebbie said it turned out to be someone from Sidney who had misdialed.
“It’s definitely a funny story,” Borland said with a laugh from San Francisco the other evening.
He can laugh — now — because the 49ers finally dialed the right number.
They called on the second night and made him a third-round selection and the 77th overall pick.
He’s been in San Francisco this past week taking part in voluntary workouts and team meetings while getting to know the players and coaches.
While he certainly will be called upon for special teams duty this rookie season, Borland also will get thrown straight into the mix at the inside linebacker position because All-Pro NaVorro Bowman is recovering from January knee surgery that may sideline him half the season.
Borland said he believes Bowman will make a full comeback and he also praised Michael Wilhoite as “a great guy who has backed up both (Patrick) Willis and Bowman.” But he also realizes he will now get a chance to play in the preseason: “At least I’ll be able to get my foot in the door and show what I can do.”
That’s all he ever asked when some big-time college football programs bypassed him coming out of Alter because they thought he was too short or too slow.
Wisconsin gave him a chance and boy did he ever turn that into a showcase opportunity.
He started 45 games for the Badgers, had 50 career tackles for a loss and forced 15 fumbles, second in FBS history. A one-man wrecking ball on the field, he had 112 tackles this past season, 40 more than anyone else on the Wisconsin defense even though he sat out nearly two games with injuries.
He was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was an All-American first-team selection of the Football Writers Association of America and a second-team pick by the Associated Press.
While some NFL teams may have shied away because he is 5-foot-11, clocked 4.78 seconds in the 40-yard dash and hasn’t had much experience in pass coverage (because he blitzed so much), the 49ers saw plusses, not problems. And it was not just because Wisconsin played a 3-4 defense similar to San Francisco’s.
“How can you not love him as a football player,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. “Not tall enough, not fast enough, arms too short — you hear all of that. But we just love his make-up. We love the player.
“He’s everything you’re looking for from the DNA standpoint. He loves the game. He’s a smart football player. He’s an extremely instinctive football player. He’s overcome (everything) that’s being talked about. … He’s just a baller and he’s going to get thrown into the mix.”
Before the draft, Borland said that except for an interview at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, he didn’t have that much contact with the 49ers.
In fact, Zebbie said, only Tampa Bay flew Chris in for a private workout. (Conversely, Cody Latimer, the Indiana receiver out of Jefferson High, visited 10 NFL teams before the draft and ended up a second-round pick of the Broncos.)
Because of the uncertainty, Borland kept the first=night draft gathering low key at his parents’ home and the next evening he and his family and a few high school friends — some 20 to 25 people in all — gathered at Flyboys Deli in Oakwood.
As the second round came and went that night, Zebbie said she could see the strain on her son: “You could tell it was wearing on him. He wanted to know where he was going to go.”
Borland agreed with his mom: “It was exciting, but it was also a little nerve-wracking. There are a lot of different feelings going on. You see pick after pick going by — guys you know, guys you played against, some guys you feel you are better than — and when your name doesn’t get called, you definitely get angry. It fuels your fire.”
Zebbie said once it got to 9:45 that night, she started considering a new dilemma: “The place was supposed to close at 10 p.m. and I wondered, ‘What are we gonna do now? We don’t have an alternative plan.’ ”
And then San Francisco called.
“When the call came, we all screamed,” Zebbie said. “We all were just so excited for Chris. And I think it’s a good fit. He plays kind of rough and tumble and that’s the kind of ball they play out there.”
After the selection, the Borlands moved the party to their son Mark’s place for Graeter’s ice cream cake. Soon the family was looking at the NFL schedule and talking about a family get-together – the Borlands have seven children and grandkids – with Chris in San Francisco for the 49ers’ Thanksgiving Day game against Seattle.
When Chris left for San Francisco last Sunday, he left the naysayers in his wake.
“Obviously being drafted by these people, they know what they’re doing,” he said after workouts the other day. “They are winners. They’re at the pinnacle of their profession and they just want me to play my game and work hard.
“I’m not out to prove people wrong now. Those who doubted me before, I don’t put much stock in the opinions of people who don’t know what I can do. I try not to pay attention to people who really don’t know me at all.”
Except, of course, that one guy who somehow managed to ring his cell as he sat anxiously awaiting a call in the early part of the NFL draft.
“Yeah, that was horrible timing,” he said with a laugh. “But things got better.”