SANTA CLARA -- Donte Whitner is hardly a one-hit wonder. He's blasted plenty of other players during his six NFL seasons, including a young Cincinnati Bengals receiver known as Chad Johnson.
"I don't know if I made him change his name to Ochocinco," Whitner said, "but I had him thinking twice about coming over the middle again."
But the smash that left the biggest imprint -- on his reputation, on the opponent -- was the blow the 49ers strong safety delivered to New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas during last season's playoff game at Candlestick Park.
Even with training camp signaling the start of a new season, Whitner said he can't slip free from his tackle against the Saints.
"Almost every day no matter where I go, people are always coming up," Whitner said Monday. "They say so many things, like, 'Oh, my god. I can't believe you knocked out Pierre Thomas.'
"Or 'I can't believe it. It was such a big play.'
"Or 'You changed the game.' "
It also changed Whitner's life. The 27-year-old tried to finish off his business and consumer affairs degree by attending classes at San Jose State during the offseason. But his fellow students kept cornering him to chat about football.
Whitner, weary of the extra attention, is now taking those classes online.
Here's the moment everyone wants to talk about: New Orleans looked on the verge of an opening touchdown in a divisional game Jan. 14. But on the 12th
As Ronnie Lott, the sultan of stops, later said: "It brought me out of my chair, and it also brought back memories. (Whitner) set the tone. My son said, 'Down goes Frazier!' "
The hit knocked Thomas out of the game with an injury. And, yes, Whitner is aware that such a development might have earned him some cash had he played for the other side.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, is under an indefinite suspension for a bounty system that provided the Saints payments for hits that injured opponents.
"Very ironic," Whitner said, "because we don't have to talk like that around here. ... If you have the right type of guys in that (locker) room, you don't have to set bounties and pay more for guys to play physical and hard."
That statement struck a nerve at Saints training camp. New Orleans linebacker Scott Shanle delivered his response via Twitter on Tuesday, writing: "guy needs to shut his mouth and mind his own business. Don't remember them winning the superbwl. U still ringless. We got one and working on two now. Try to keep up"
This might be a good time to circle the date: Nov. 25, 49ers at New Orleans.
Whitner, meanwhile, prefers to steer clear of the fiery rhetoric. He's a fan of the way 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio offers straightforward speeches with an almost academic review of details and assignments.
"He's the same guy in practice as he is in the NFC Championship game," Whitner said. "You can appreciate that. Some guys get into that moment and they've changed into another person because they're as nervous or even more nervous than the players are. You don't see that with Vic."
Such a cerebral approach suits Whitner, which might explain why the 5-10, 208-pounder thrived in the 49ers system last season after five seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
A safety in numbers: 10 (passes defensed), 3 (fumble recoveries) and 2 (interceptions) -- all career highs.
Whitner also profited from working alongside rangy free safety Dashon Goldson, his snag-team partner who also set a career high with six interceptions. Whitner said he hangs out with Goldson off the field, too, and said he was "relieved" when his teammate reported to camp on time and signed the one-year, $6.2 million franchise tender.
Whitner said Goldson recognized that the defense can't afford to waste a second. In Week 1, the 49ers secondary faces the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers. In Week 2, the Lions and Matthew Stafford comes to town. That's 9,681 yards and 86 touchdowns right out of the gate.
Such a challenge explains why Whitner is pulling rookie safety Trenton Robinson, a sixth-rounder from Michigan State, aside for daily tutoring sessions. The 49ers don't have much safety experience behind the starters, so Whitner is serving as a volunteer assistant for defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.
If Whitner ever wants to give his young pupils some show-and-tell, he can always pop in the film of his hit on Thomas.
"I'm not happy that he was injured on the play, but I was happy I was able to deliver a big blow," Whitner said. "Because who knows what would have happened? Our confidence could have gotten a little shaken."
Staff writer Cam Inman contributed to this report.