It didn't hit Joe Staley until pregame warmups that he was getting ready to play in one of the biggest games of his NFL career. The immense amount of media members, fans and the obvious build up surrounding the nationwide spectacle instantly became a reality.
That was back in 2013. Now in 2020, Staley will make his second-career Super Bowl appearance next Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers first trip to the championship game since the 2012-13 season. Just eight players on San Francisco's 53-man roster have made at least one appearance in a Super Bowl during their NFL careers. This is why the counsel of Staley and the other seven veterans is invaluable as this young 49ers team prepares for one of the biggest moments of their professional careers.
"That was the only time for me that I actually felt like, 'we're in the Super Bowl,' just because there are so many people around," Staley said. "You realize in that moment that you're playing in the Super Bowl."
Super Bowl week is no cake walk. From managing the expectations of family and friends to the abundance of national media requests, all while quieting the pressure of the game, it can become challenging to combat outside noise. Despite the stir that comes with the territory, the focus inside the team's camp is to limit distractions – that includes using this week at home in Santa Clara to focus on preparations before the hoopla of Miami.
"You're used to just doing what we do here, and then you get down there and it's like almost 100 times what you've done your whole entire career," Staley said. "That's a little bit overwhelming at first. But I think there are lessons to be learned in that. And I think that we have enough guys here that have gone through it and we have a good enough team, quality guys, that aren't going to let it be a distraction."
Emmanuel Sanders is another veteran who is familiar with the anticipated chaos that lies ahead in Miami. He too shares the same sentiment as Staley. Sanders is navigating his third Super Bowl appearance with his third NFL team. The first came by way of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, and the second, Super Bowl 50 at Levi's® Stadium with the Denver Broncos. While the team is in a new city, with a different time zone, workout schedule and media obligations, along with a magnitude of other things, Sanders appreciates the 49ers attempt at normalcy ahead of the changes that await.
"I think the language going on around the building is very accurate," Sanders said. "Kyle's (Shanahan) been around a long time. And John's (Lynch) won Super Bowls. And we've got guys on this team who have won Super Bowls and been to the Super Bowl. So, I think that's the language that's going on around here in terms of everything this week, so when we get out to Miami it's going to be even more chaos. I think we're speaking the right language, in terms of getting the young guys to understand and visualize what's exactly going to go on and how the week is going to be and how it's going to be out at Miami as well."
Aside from the frenzy surrounding Sunday's game, the team's emphasis is on not "over hyping" the inevitable. The team is treating the next two weeks (as closely) as they have this entire season. The music still blares from the locker room. There's no shortage of dance moves on the practice field. The team is loose, but the focus remains the constant.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh argues every week has been a "Championship game" for the 49ers. In other words, as long as the team continues to prepare and perform with a championship mindset, next Sunday's game will feel just as normal (and successful) as it was back in Week 1.
"It's about making these young guys visualize it so that when it does happen, it doesn't just hit them upside the head. They see it before it comes," Sanders added. "It's a lot of hype in terms of, 'It's the Super Bowl - the biggest sporting event in the world.' But at the same time, it's my job, I've got to go out and win a game."