49ers

Joe Staley is so excited before 49ers games, he barely can fall asleep

Joe Staley is so excited before 49ers games, he barely can fall asleep

SANTA CLARA -- Two years ago, 49ers six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley seriously questioned whether he would ever be in this situation again.

His long, up-and-down history with the 49ers makes this year’s NFC West title and return to the NFC Championship Game all the more special for the organization’s longest-tenured player.

In fact, Staley is so excited these days that he is having a difficult time sleeping the nights before games.

“I find as I get older, I can’t sleep very well,” said Staley, 35, a 13-year pro. “I’ve been noticing that the whole, entire season. I just get anxious for games now.”

Staley said he went to bed at 10:30 p.m. on Friday night. He woke up ready to go for the 1:35 p.m. kickoff. But there was one significant problem. He was more than 12 hours early.

“I woke up at 1. And I woke up, like, ready,” Staley said. “I felt like I slept eight hours. I was up and I couldn’t go back to bed until 1:30.

“Then, I woke up at 3. Three? (Expletive deleted.) I get anxious for all the games now.”

He went back to sleep and awakened again at 6 a.m. This time, he decided he was up for good, and he was not going to even attempt to get more sleep.

Staley discovered second-year right tackle Mike McGlinchey had a similar experience. Staley, McGlinchey and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo were up early and decided to drive to Levi’s Stadium much earlier their usual.

“We got here 4 ½ hours before kickoff,” Staley said. “It was the earliest I’ve ever been here. And I did my normal routine, and I realized how much time I had left, and I was like, (expletive deleted), why did I get here so early? So I sat down and had a coffee. I don’t think I’ll do it again.”

Staley appeared in the ninth postseason game of his career on Saturday when the 49ers defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 27-10, in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Now, it's on to the NFC Championshp Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

[RELATEDKey 49ers-Packers matchups in NFC Championship Game]

Staley is the only 49ers player remaining on the team who saw action in Super Bowl XLVII when the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens.

After some down here, Staley contemplated retirement during the 2017 season when the organization was on its fourth head coach in four years.

But he became convinced something would be different under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. He decided to put his faith in the men at the top of the organization.

“Just being with Kyle and John when they got here in 2017, seeing their vision,” Staley said. “I was at a crossroads in my career. I don’t want to go through another rebuild kind of thing. And listening to them talk about what they believe and the kind of players they were going to bring in here. They wanted to really, really put an emphasis on guys who were going to really love football. High-character, quality guys who were also just bad-asses on the football field.

“They do what they preach, and it’s been exciting to see the build here.”

So exciting, in fact, that Staley can barely sleep.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.

How 49ers star George Kittle reminds retired Rob Gronkowski of himself

How 49ers star George Kittle reminds retired Rob Gronkowski of himself

Gronk has spoken. 

The Athletic's Daniel Brown asked the former New England Patriots tight end in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIV who he would take between 49ers star George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Travis Kelce. There are no wrong answers, considering either can credibly claim themselves to be the NFL's best tight end since Gronkowski retired last March. 

Gronkowski, though, has a personal preference. 

“Kittle, for sure,’’ Gronkowski told Brown in Miami. “Because he just reminds me of myself a little bit with the way he plays the game.”

In 2018, Kittle and Kelce both broke Gronkowski's single-season record for the most receiving yards by a tight end. Kittle (1,377) barely edged Kelce (1,336), finishing the year with the most prolific campaign by a tight end in NFL history. 

In fact, no tight end caught more passes (216) for more yards (2,945) in the first three years of their NFL career than Kittle. But Kittle's not just a pass-catcher, enjoying run-blocking just as much -- if not more -- than scoring touchdowns. 

Kittle's complete skill set allowed him to break another one of Gronkowski's single-season records, earning Pro Football Focus' highest grade by a tight end. Combine the all-around skills, passion for the sport and a fun-loving personality, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking Gronkowski and Kittle for the Spider-Man meme. 

“I see a little bit of me in both, but I would say I’m definitely more of a Kittle, hands down,’’ Gronkowski said. “I would say that because of the attitude that he brings to the table, just the grit he brings into the trenches. He wants to bring it every time. He wants to be that guy that’s fierce out there and just wrecking guys whether it’s the passing game or the running game.”

[RELATED: Shanahan convinced Sherman to sign with 49ers over Lions]

Gronkowski will be covering Super Bowl LIV as an analyst for Fox Sports, getting an up-close view of the player he sees much of himself in. Kittle will have another chance to better Gronkowski, too.

The retired tight end didn't pick up a ring in his first Super Bowl appearance, as his Patriots once again lost to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Sunday will mark Kittle's first appearance on the NFL's biggest stage, and he -- and the 49ers -- will hope for a better outcome than that of his predecessor. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

Why Richard Sherman passed on more guaranteed money to sign with 49ers

Why Richard Sherman passed on more guaranteed money to sign with 49ers

Richard Sherman bet on himself, and it paid off in a big way.

The 49ers' standout cornerback took a big risk when he decided to sign with San Francisco, and that's without even considering the other options that were on the table at the time. The three-year, $39 million contract he signed with the 49ers was not only incentive-laden but carried less guaranteed money than a contract Sherman ultimately passed on from coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions.

"But that’s not the kind of football I want to play,” Sherman said of the Lions to The Athletic's David Lombardi. “The way you run their scheme, your culture. You want to do it the Patriots’ way and that’s really not the way I do football."

Patricia, of course, is a disciple of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"I have fun," Sherman continued. "I like music at practice. I like to hang out and be relaxed in meetings. I don’t like the stressful environment in football. [The Lions] condition every day after practice. My body isn’t built to run all day and night. I’ll be prepared, but I don’t have to be run into the ground."

Sherman has been wise to be extra cautious with his body, particularly being just over two years removed from tearing his Achilles. The 31-year-old might be getting a little long in the tooth for an NFL cornerback, but he was attracted to San Francisco at least in part due to coach Kyle Shanahan's modernized approach.

"That’s what I appreciate about Kyle,” Sherman explained. "His culture and the way he did things was very similar to how we did things in Seattle and what I was accustomed to. That made a huge difference. Hey, I can get this $20 million guaranteed and be in Detroit and lose football games. Or I can go to a place where I’m very comfortable with the scheme, coach and culture and I’m very comfortable with the things they do and I really believe we can win.

"Because I don’t think there’s anybody that can stop Kyle when he has the personnel that he has picked and put into spots, and I don’t think there’s anyone that can beat Saleh when he has the personnel that he has picked and put into spots."

[RELATED: Chiefs rookie believes he's ready to test 49ers vet Sherman]

Sherman has been correct about many things. He was right about Shanahan and Saleh, he was right to bet on himself, and after watching Detroit go a combined 9-22-1 over the last two seasons, he clearly made the right decision to pass on the Lions' offer.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.