MIAMI – The San Francisco 49ers are 15-3 this season and just one win from lifting the Lombardi Trophy, which makes it easy to forget the lowest of lows they experienced just over two years ago.
In November 2017, Kyle Shanahan’s team was 0-9 in his first season as head coach. They finally got off the schneid with a victory over the New York Giants, prompting an outsized celebration for a team thirsty for victory.
“We think about that a lot,” Shanahan told reporters Thursday. “Starting 0-9 was not fun, at all. Your first year as a head coach, you kind of want to get that monkey off your back and at least get one win in. …
“It was a lot longer than I anticipated, so it did feel like we won a Super Bowl after (the win over the Giants).”
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who had arrived via midseason trade, recalls feeling similarly after the win.
“It was different to me, I’m not gonna lie,” Garoppolo said Thursday. “We were throwing water in the locker room, boomboxes were going and everything.”
That team finished 6-10 thanks to a 5-0 stretch to close the season. But the 49ers another low hit in 2018, when Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3, coincidentally against Sunday’s opponent for Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs.
About 16 months removed from the injury, Garoppolo now enters the biggest game of his life sporting a 23-5 career record, including the postseason.
“It’s just crazy, just going through the entire process,” he said. “About a year ago, I was learning how to run again. When you look back on everything, it really makes you realize how special this moment is.”
The team’s struggles without Garoppolo in 2018 eventually helped reinforce the foundation for this season’s run to the Super Bowl. The 49ers wound up with the No. 2 overall pick in last April’s draft, landing stud pass rusher Nick Bosa.
Bosa admitted Thursday he didn’t know he was going to be joining a juggernaut as a rookie.
“I didn’t even know it was to this extent,” he said. “I thought they had a pretty good team, but we’re stacked. John Lynch is an amazing GM. He knows how to create depth at every position.”
Lynch, of course, has taken his own long journey, going from a star player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to broadcasting for Fox to jumping straight to the general manager role without any scouting experience.
Shanahan’s individual path has been a bit more gradual, but he certainly started small. During the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory, he was a 15-year-old ball boy for the team, whose offensive coordinator was his father, Mike Shanahan.
“I was on the sidelines that game,” Kyle Shanahan said of Super Bowl XXIX, the second of two 49ers Super Bowl wins in Miami. “Definitely wasn’t allowed across the (30-yard line). I had to stay with most of the media guys. I was always that annoying kid, jumping in front of all the media people, trying to do their job. …
“It was great. Just being down there, being a part of that stuff, being on the field after.”
With several individuals and the team as a whole following such unlikely paths to this point, they are now squarely focused on paying it off with a Lombardi Trophy.
“It’s one of those things, you can’t really take it for granted,” Garoppolo said. “You don’t know if you’re ever going to be back here, so gotta make it count while you can.”
–Field Level Media