Alumni Feature: Jesse Sapolu
Sapolu spent 15 seasons in San Francisco and is one of six 49ers players to own four Super Bowl rings.
He currently serves as an alumni coordinator for the 49ers where he takes an active role in day-to-day involvement in the community with corporate partners and fans.
In 2013, he co-founded the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame to honor Polynesia's greatest players, coaches and contributors
Sapolu triumphed on the field despite having a dangerous heart condition, a torn aortic heart valve, that stayed with him during his 15-year career which included nine appearances in the NFC title game, four Super Bowl rings, two Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro selections.
In his book, I Gave My Heart to San Francisco, four-time San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl champion Jesse Sapolu detailed the highlights and hardships of his remarkable playing career including having an enlarged heart which caused him to undergo two surgeries, including one in 1997, his final year with the 49ers.
For this month's WON Coach's Corner interviews we are highlighting the recent promotions of Mike McDaniel to Offensive Coordinator and DeMeco Ryans to Defensive Coordinator. To celebrate, we are looking back at WON interviews with them over the years:
Can you explain how the run game can set up the passing game for success?
"The run game and the pass game aren't mutually exclusive. They both work for each other. When the run game is going well, a lot of defenses have to add a player close to the line of scrimmage and that leaves them vulnerable to pass plays and vice versa. If you're passing the ball well, you get safeties deeper and your run angles and your combinations work better. I'd say they both play off of each other and that's something that Coach Shanahan has done in his offenses – it's one of the things he's best known for."
What does TE George Kittle bring to the run game?
"George Kittle is starting to get the credit he deserves as one of the best players in the run and pass regardless of position. His presence not only makes defenses worried about him in the pass game, but his football foundation started with the run game so he's a player that we use at the point of attack a ton. When he's out there, he's very impactful on the run game in its entirety."
What are qualities that you have seen from LB Fred Warner as a player and a leader?
What I saw from him, you'd think he's a veteran. The way he continues to progress, he's, of course, a mature guy and carries himself so well. He's all business all the time. You did see Fred progress throughout the year. To me, I thought he was one of the top linebackers in the league his first year. I think he continues to prove that and he has more to prove. I think he got a taste of being one of the top guys, what it takes, week in and week out. Fred is consistent, he's dependable, he's tough, he's relentless. He's everything you want in a linebacker.
How did your successful playing career translate into coaching and connecting with the players?
I've been there so I can help them. I think playing really helped me when we're talking in the room about life skills, not only football. Football will take care of itself, but being in their position with things that happen off the field. I've been there, I can relate to the guys and I can give them some good advice because of the things I've been through.
To read more about Coaches McDaniel and Ryans, click the bios below.
WON of Us: Liz
Liz grew up on the 49ers with her father who she still enjoys watching games with to this day.
I have been a 49ers fan for as long as I can remember! When I say fan for life, there is even a picture of my parent's baby shower for me and they were gifted my first 49ers outfit. My grandfather used to have season tickets at Candlestick Park and he taught the game to my dad who then passed that fandom down to me. It's been a special bond between our family and specifically with my dad and me. We know that we can always get together when there is 49ers football on and even when we aren't together, we have constantly text each other throughout the game.
What do you love about WON?
I think it highlights that women can and do enjoy football just as much as men and we often are just as knowledgeable as everyone else. As a matter of fact, most of the 49ers fans that I know are actually women. To me, it's very empowering that the organization not only recognizes this part of the fan base, but creates unique opportunities for women to express their fandom and feel appreciated.
Was there one inspirational moment in team history that confirmed your 49ers fandom?
After spending a full season watching games away from Levi's® Stadium I have such an appreciation for the 2019 season and how fun and magical it truly was. But I think that the most inspirational moments have come from the more down seasons, actually. When they haven't had the best records, I have never seen this team or players ever "mail-it-in." They play for themselves, the team, and the fan base. It's that mentality that inspires me and keeps the Faithful so loyal year over year.
Get to know WON member Liz.
What 49ers tradition or superstition do you/your family have?
Off the top of my head, we don't have any specific superstitions but I do have some favorite items that I like to wear when I watch games. Typically, I'll have a 49ers jersey on and I have a pair of Nike shoes that are red, gold, black that I love to wear each gameday as well. If I'm watching a game and another 49ers fan starts to get down on a player or upset about the results of a game, I'm there to correct their attitude and remind them to keep the Faith!
What impact has the 49ers had on your life?
A huge impact! Across the years, I've started watching more pro-sports, but none of them get me as excited as football season. I love that there is one marquee game every week vs. the multi-game per week that some other sports have. Every single game is must-see TV and impacts the season so much. With that format, it's as if each game is the next chapter in each season's story. It allows for something for everyone to look forward to and come together to enjoy. On top of bringing 49ers fans together, football season can bring fans of all NFL teams together for competitive banter. Even if we are rivals we can still enjoy the game together.
On Friday, January 29 the 49ers Museum presented by Foxconn Industrial Internet launched their Virtual Tour program. The museum features 11 unique gallery and exhibit spaces dedicated to the 49ers past, present and future. The tour will highlight the last 75 years of 49ers history and celebrate some of the team's most exciting moments, from Super Bowl wins to memorable plays like "The Catch". To take the virtual tour and learn more about 49ers history, visit levisstadium.com/museum-virtual-tour/.
This Month in 49ers History
February 16, 1999
Quarterback Jeff Garcia signed with the San Francisco 49ers after a brilliant five-year career in the Canadian Football League. While coaching at Stanford, Bill Walsh watched the Gilroy-born Garcia lead San Jose State to a near-upset win over the Cardinals. When Walsh rejoined the 49ers in 1999 as general manager, he persuaded Garcia to leave the Calgary Stampeders and sign with the 49ers. Garcia replaced Steve Young as the starter in 2000 and passed for 4,278 yards, a 49ers single-season record, and 31 touchdowns. He threw for over 300 yards in six games in 2000 and made the first of four Pro Bowl appearances.