The 49ers’ franchise is among the best in honoring previous legends and reminiscing the greats that have stuck by the team through thick and thin. That’s why the sidelines at Levi’s Stadium are normally filled with former superstars from wideout Jerry Rice to linebacker Patrick Willis to quarterback Joe Montana before every game.
San Francisco truly embodies their motto “Faithful then, Faithful now,” and that’s why fans will see banners of Montana and Rice alongside Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle while they pull up to Levi’s Stadium.
It’s a fan base that deeply reveres the greats that have represented the red and gold on the field, and there’s one particular 49ers’ player that fans will be rooting extra hard for on Sunday — tackle Joe Staley.
The longest-tenured 49er — since joining the team in 2007 — has been loyal to this franchise despite being a part of some lifeless teams in his 13-year career. Staley has tasted the highest of highs while being part of some of the lowest of lows this team has seen since he’s been here.
After the Jim Harbaugh era, where Staley and Co. were a mere five yards away from a Super Bowl, the former Central Michigan lineman experienced the polar opposite under the command of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. He admitted that it wasn’t easy, but the hire of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch started to inject confidence and rejuvenate him, despite being ten years into his career.
I’d be lying to you if I said, ‘No, I always believed.’ But there were some dark years here in the franchise, it’s been well written about and reported on. But once I met Kyle [Shanahan] and John [Lynch] and the vision they had for the franchise, I was pretty confident we were going to get there. I was just happy I was still feeling the way I felt, still had years left to play, was going to be able to see this through.
Joe Staley has seen it and done it all. He’s been on Pro Bowl teams, All-Pro teams, been to the playoffs, seen NFC Championship games, and even tasted Super Bowl defeat. There’s only one thing left for the veteran to accomplish — win a Super Bowl.
The summit for an NFL player is being able to hoist a Lombardi Trophy, as confetti rains down from above to cap off a special season. Despite all of the individual honors, being recognized as a champion for one’s on-field achievements is something that nobody can ever take away.
If the 49ers can cap off a magical 2019 season with a Super Bowl victory over the Chiefs, will Staley decide to hang up his cleats and walk away on the high of becoming a champion?
The veteran tackle is on a three-year, $36.75M contract that will keep him with the 49ers through 2021, but he faced injuries early in the season. This included a broken fibula and a finger injury that sidelined him most of the year.
Despite the rehab and recovery, the 35-year old Michigan native returned to the 49ers and was arguably better at the end of the season than he was at the beginning. He tallied clean sheets in the two playoff games, not allowing a single pressure against Minnesota or Green Bay.
On Super Bowl Opening Night, Staley seemed to be soaking it in, considering that the opportunity to play in the sport’s biggest game has only happened twice in his long career.
If the 49ers can pull off the unthinkable against the Chiefs, I can certainly see Staley stepping away from the game as a champion. On the flip side, knowing the tackle’s competitive nature and love for the game means that he could be back and sign a new contract past 2021 too.
Everything’s on the line with Staley — but as we watch him compete and protect Jimmy Garoppolo’s blind side, we should appreciate everything that No. 74 has contributed to this franchise. He’s revered as one of the legends already, and a Super Bowl would be the cherry on top of a marvelous career.