Barber: 49ers touch down in Miami for Super Bowl LIV
MIAMI — The 49ers have arrived.
Metaphorically, they have arrived. They are the best team in the NFC this year, and in a week will get a chance to crown themselves champions of the entire NFL. And now they have arrived in a more literal sense. Their United Airlines Boeing 777 touched down at Miami International Airport on Sunday, and at 7:10 p.m. Eastern time that plane taxied into American Airlines’ maintenance hangar for the first great photo op of Super Bowl LIV.
Their slow roll into the hangar was accompanied by a DJ’s booming tracks. The United pilot waved a 49ers flag from the cockpit. Lights flashed as crewmen connected stairways to the two exit doors. As each passenger reached the bottom of the steps, someone plopped a tropical-themed Super Bowl cap on his or her head.
The participants’ arrival (the Chiefs had landed here a couple hours earlier) is the flimsiest of news items, a hyped look at professional athletes doing a thing that we lesser mortals do all the time — get off an airplane. In this case, though, it was also a chance to mark the unlikely path many of these players and coaches have taken to the Super Bowl.
Every sports team has tales of perseverance and improbability. But these 49ers seem to be specialists in the genre. Win or lose against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, this arrival was a moment they could take pride in.
The first player off the plane was Jimmy Garoppolo. He was wearing a sweatsuit top over a flowered shirt. He could look dapper in a nurse’s smock.
Garoppolo tore his ACL on a fluke play in the third game of 2018, delaying his emergence as the 49ers’ franchise quarterback. He has been around a while. He has a Super Bowl ring from the Patriots. But this was his first full season as an NFL starter. Garoppolo threw just eight passes against Green Bay in the NFC championship game. As he prepares to start a Super Bowl at the most important position on the field, we still don’t entirely know who he is.
There was Raheem Mostert, dressed in black workout gear as most of the 49ers were.
Mostert has emerged as one of the most effective running backs in the NFL — he carved up the Packers for a franchise-record 220 yards in that NFC title game — but it took him several seasons just to get the chance. Six different teams cut him before he signed with the 49ers, and even San Francisco saw him purely as a special-teamer for at least a year, before injuries to other backs gave Mostert an opportunity.
There was fullback Kyle Juszczyk, wearing a big smile, as usual.
Juszczyk is a standout at a position that has become all but extinct in the NFL. Some teams rarely field a fullback outside of goal-line situations. The 49ers are an outlier. Coach and offensive architect Kyle Shanahan not only uses Juszczyk as a blocker, he designs plays to isolate the 235-pound Harvard grad as a receiver. A big game by Juice on America’s biggest stage might singlehandedly resuscitate the position.
There was guard Mike Person, though most of the people assembled to watch the spectacle probably didn’t recognize him.