NEW ORLEANS - Kurt Warner still winces at the memory of the helmet-to-helmet shot that Anquan Boldin absorbed in a 2008 game against the New York Jets.

Then with the Arizona Cardinals, Boldin was trying to grab a pass from Warner in the end zone when he was knocked unconscious by Eric Smith.

"It was the most vicious hit I've ever seen, up close and personal. It made me think about retirement," Warner said Tuesday.

Boldin missed only two weeks, a testament to his grit and fearlessness. But the 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pounder, now with Baltimore, wants to be known as more than simply a tough receiver.

"I look it as, I'm a football player," Boldin said. "Not so much a receiver."

Boldin has been a key figure in the Ravens' charge to the Super Bowl. After leading Baltimore with 65 receptions and 921 yards during the regular season, he's got 16 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs.

That's why stopping Boldin is a huge part of San Francisco's game plan on Sunday.

"He's very determined to bring his team his championship," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "He's going up high to catch footballs and running past people to catch footballs. Strong after the catch, fearless. We'll have our hands full with him."

Boldin, 32, isn't afraid to cut across the field or challenge a safety by going deep. He can shrug off a hard hit, and also is an aggressive downfield blocker.

"I've never been around a player that is as tough as he is," Warner said.

In that injury-shortened 2008 season, Boldin finished with 89 catches for 1,038 yards in only 10 games. He had eight catches for 84 yards in the Super Bowl, but Arizona fell 27-23 to Pittsburgh.

Boldin has no intention of losing again in the Super Bowl.

"You don't want to walk away not holding that trophy," he said. "It's something that sits with you. For me, it's been since that day. I'm glad I got back here, able to make things right."

Boldin grew up as part of a poor family in Florida, earned a scholarship to Florida State and starred for coach Bobby Bowden. He was drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft with Arizona and set a single-season record for receptions by a rookie (101) and made the Pro Bowl.

Soon after that, he created the Anquan Boldin Foundation, dedicated to expanding the educational and life opportunities of underprivileged children.

Last year, Boldin visited Ethiopia with former Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald to help the drought-stricken country.

"For me, it was an eye-opener," Boldin said. "I felt like I had it hard growing up - growing up in a less fortunate area - but once I got to Ethiopia, I realize I had it great."

Boldin's generosity is evident everywhere, even in the Baltimore locker room. A year ago, he mentored rookie Torrey Smith, now a solid NFL receiver.

"He is the definition of a pro," Smith said. "Faithful, religious, a great father. He has always been willing to help me in any way.

"And he is one of the great route runners of all time, so I have certainly benefited from that."

Up next

• What: Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore vs. San Francisco

• Where: New Orleans

• When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday

• TV: Channel 13