Handful of 49ers have Super Bowl experience

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MIAMI — They’re too young.

They’re inexperienced.

They’re terrific, but they’ve been terrific for only six months.

No matter how many games the 49ers have won, or how thoroughly they overpower their opponents, skeptics keep coming back to the 49ers’ youth and inexperience. As if those things inevitably will doom their season. As if the 49ers are Cinderella, and their magical mystery carriage will transform into a pumpkin at midnight, or just before the Super Bowl. And they’ll be left wearing ashes.

As if George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt all will trip and fall on their faces during the Super Bowl because they’ve never been there.

The 49ers were 4-12 a year ago, one of the worst teams in the NFL. They did not build gradually to this moment, they exploded onto this moment, and it’s fair to wonder if they’re ready for it. But a few coaches and players on the 49ers have been to the Super Bowl before. Call these men the elder statesmen. They can tell the rest of the players and coaches exactly what to expect during the biggest week of their careers.

Here is the collective Super Bowl wisdom the 49ers’ wise men have to offer:

Left tackle Joe Staley

“My Super Bowl experience was a long time ago,” Staley recalled in the 49ers’ locker room. Staley played in the Super Bowl seven years ago when the 49ers lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. This was the only Super Bowl the 49ers ever have lost. You could almost understand if Staley had erased that entire week from his memory. Instead, he learned from it.

“The distractions that come with the game are not so much the game,” Staley explained. “All of a sudden, you have 20 family members down there, and everybody wants to have an experience. I tell my mom and wife, this is a business trip for me. I tell a lot of the guys the same thing: manage the expectations of your family, and really focus on the game.”

Which means don’t enjoy the moment. The season isn’t over yet. Keep working.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders has played in two Super Bowls.

The first time was nine years ago, when he played for the Steelers. In that game, he caught just two passes for 17 yards before getting injured, and the Steelers lost 35-21 to the Packers.

The second time Sanders played in a Super Bowl was four years ago. He played for the Broncos, caught six passes for 88 yards and Denver beat the Panthers 24-10.

This time, Sanders knows exactly what to expect and how to ignore distractions, particularly from journalists who flock to the game from all over the country and ask the players questions every day, sometimes annoying, silly questions.

“It’s a lot of hype,” Sanders said. “It’s the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the world, but at the same time it’s my job. I told the young guys today, ‘You can watch TV, you can feed into that, but none of that matters if you lose the game.’ The best bet is to stay locked in and don’t read the newspaper articles and stuff like that. I feel like this team, from a focus standpoint, we’re all built like that as well because we’ve been in crucial games and nobody blinked.”

High praise from the veteran wide receiver, who knows a blinker when he sees one.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan blinked the first time he went to the Super Bowl.

Meaning he choked, apologies for the bluntness. This was three years ago, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. He had a 28-3 lead in the second half, and lost because he didn’t stick with his running game long enough. He let the enormity of the moment overwhelm him. He blinked.

“The learning moments never feel good,” Shanahan said. “That’s why when we were way up in the fourth quarter on Green Bay, I knew a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter isn’t enough. We only had a 14-point lead with eight minutes to go versus Green Bay, and it felt like the game was tied. Sometimes I think people tend to relax.”

Shanahan learned that lesson the hard way. Now he can warn the rest of the 49ers about the dangers of premature relaxation.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh

Saleh has his own wisdom.

He won the first time he went to the Super Bowl. That was 2014, when he was a quality control coach for the Seahawks, who beat the Broncos 43-8. Just destroyed them.

Now Saleh is the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, and one of the few people in the organization who can say from experience what it takes to dominate a Super Bowl opponent.

“You just try to keep guys in the moment,” Saleh explained. “Today is a championship day. If you approach your life in that regard and stay in the championship moment, then the days leading up to the game and the game itself will just become normal. You do that through practice and through your day-to-day operations. Try to keep the players in that mindset and, when the game comes, you don’t create anything new. You do what you’ve done every single day, treat it like a championship moment and just go play.”

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo never has played in a Super Bowl, but he has two Super Bowl rings from his time as the Patriots backup quarterback.

He was on the sideline when the Patriots beat Richard Sherman and the Seahawks in 2015, and when Shanahan’s Falcons collapsed in 2017. Garoppolo has seen how just chaotic and unpredictable Super Bowl week can be.

“Being up close and personal with it, I think all that will help me,” Garoppolo said.

And having watched Tom Brady win two Super Bowls up close couldn’t hurt, either. “Everyone says you’ve got to treat it like another game,’ Garoppolo said. “(Brady) actually did it. I was up close and personal, picking up everything I could, seeing how he went about his business. I try to transfer that over to my game.”

The 49ers’ have channeled Brady’s Super Bowl wisdom through Garoppolo. Not a bad channel.

Cornerback Richard Sherman

Compared to the rest of the 49ers’ collective Super Bowl wisdom, Sherman is King Solomon.

Sherman has played in two Super Bowls. The first time, he won. The second time, he lost — that’s when Russell Wilson threw an interception at the goal line instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch near the end. Sherman watched the play from the sideline with a horrified expression.

“I don’t think about that very much,” Sherman said. “It’s a different team, different organization. I look forward to another opportunity to go chase that trophy, and I think we have a great opportunity.”

But do the 49ers have enough experience?

“It’s overrated,” Sherman said. “Before I won a Super Bowl, we didn’t have any experience and we won 43-8. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s a football game. If we were going to play under different rules and there was an 80-yard field, then it would be something to have Super Bowl experience. But if the field is the same, if the end zones are the same, if the field goal posts are in the same spots, then it’s the same game.”

And it is.

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