SANTA CLARA -- The thoughts of defensive lineman Solomon Thomas drifted toward three young members of the 49ers family who were not at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night to participate in the celebration.
In the past two years, Thomas, the York family and C.J. Beathard dealt with tragic deaths of young loved ones.
Thomas’ sister, Ella, 24, died on Jan. 23, 2018.
Tony York, 35, son of 49ers owners John and Denise York, and brother of CEO Jed York, died on Dec. 7, 2018.
And Clayton Beathard, 22, younger brother of 49ers quarterback C.J., was the victim of a fatal stabbing on Dec. 21.
“I wish she was here to celebrate with me, but I know she’s smiling up there,” Thomas said of his sister after the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
“I’m happy for the Yorks. I know Tony is watching. And I know C.J.’s brother, Clayton, is watching, as well. This team has been through a lot. That’s why we love each other. That’s why this brotherhood is so strong. We’ve all been here for each other since Day 1. That’s why we’re here.”
The 49ers’ victory on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium earned the organization its seventh trip to the Super Bowl. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, in Miami.
Thomas, 24, has played just three NFL seasons, but he has experienced so much after coming to the 49ers as the first draft pick of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan after they were hired together in 2017.
The No. 3 overall pick from Stanford has experienced difficult times on and off the field. Now, where Thomas was selected in the draft is of little importance. He is fitting in as a key rotational player on the 49ers’ deep and talented defensive line.
“Those seasons where we were losing, we kept fighting,” Thomas said. “We never stopped. We believed in coach. And it paid off, and we still have one game to go. We love this team. We love each other and we keep playing for each other. That’s why we’re here. We’re not going to stop until we win that thing, so let’s go do it.”
After starting 25 games in his first two NFL seasons, Thomas’ role was decreased this season after the club added veteran Dee Ford in a trade and Nick Bosa in the draft. But Thomas brings value to the team.
He registered a sack in the 49ers’ divisional-round victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and Thomas played 23 snaps, fifth-most among the team’s defensive linemen, in the win over the Packers. Thomas said his focus for the next two weeks is on preparing to do whatever is asked of him to contribute to a win over the Chiefs.
“I just want to do my part, doing my 1/11,” he said. “I want to be there for the guy next to me. I want to be accountable. I want to show up. I got a lot left to prove, and it’s not about me. It’s about this team, and I just want to do my part and do what I can for this team to make sure we win.”
There is an unmistakable bond that the 49ers have created in their locker room that was forged out of the shared experiences of work, determination, trust and compassion. Thomas believes those factors are major reasons why the 49ers went from being a team that won just 10 games in two seasons to the Super Bowl.
“It’s how much we love each other and why we fight for each other,” Thomas said. “It’s not a selfish team. We make sacrifices for each other. We play for each other. That’s what this game is all about. That’s why we’re here.”
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).