MIAMI — Kyle Shanahan was just a teenager when he received a special Christmas present from his parents in 1994.
Unwrapping the box, Shanahan was elated when he picked up a red, No. 21 Deion Sanders jersey — a 75th anniversary throwback edition the 49ers wore during the 1994 season and during their fifth Super Bowl championship just over a month later in 1995.
“I didn’t take [the jersey] off until the day after the Super Bowl,” Shanahan said, reflecting on his 49ers fandom. “I wore it for a month and 10 days. I changed my undershirt, I promise. I was just dedicated to that team.”
Twenty five years later, Shanahan is now at the helm of the 49ers franchise, leading a team unfathomably rich in championship history to its seventh Super Bowl appearance.
And while his focus has shifted from being a 49ers super-fan to preparing for the biggest game of his life, being in a Super Bowl as the head coach of his childhood team is beyond anything he could have ever imagined.
“If you had told me this when I was in middle school, I would have said that’s a dream come true,” Shanahan said. “The way it worked out and the way everything lined up, it is pretty special to sit and think about.”
When talking to those around the 49ers about Shanahan today, the words that come up are often “genius” or “offensive savant.” Some players have even called him “the best offensive coach I’ve ever been around.”
But those praises didn’t rise accidentally for Shanahan. In fact, football has been in his blood for as long as he can remember, , as he spent a large portion of his childhood in or around NFL locker rooms.
Shanahan’s father, Mike, is one of the most well-respected coaches in the current NFL landscape. As a head coach for several NFL franchises over the span of his 55-year career, Mike boasts three Super Bowl rings, including two as a head coach.
His first, however came in 1995 when Mike served as the 49ers offensive coordinator under head coach George Seifert, calling the plays for quarterback Steve Young and the rest of the historically great San Francisco offense that season.
That year, the younger Shanahan was also a 49ers ball boy, afforded countless hours around some of the NFL’s greatest players including Jerry Rice and Sanders.
Shanahan was a receiver and quarterback at Saratoga High School at the time, soaking up rare and invaluable knowledge at 49ers practices and inside the team’s locker room.
“Guys like Deion, they would go to dinner and take the ball boys with them,” Mike said in an interview with ESPN. “He got a chance to get to know all of these guys on a personal basis. He’s around them now as well so it was a great experience for him.”
Shanahan can recall what it meant to him to have world-class players around during some of his formative years. He even remembers wandering around long after players had left the facility, looking for gloves they may have left behind — a memento for his 49ers collection.
“Players were such nice and good people to me at a young age,” Shanahan said. “I see our guys do it now with people and be able to bring my son around and see how they treat him. I was very fortunate to have that growing up.”
On top of being around the team before during and after practice, Shanahan was around for the trio of Super Bowls his father won as a coach as well. He even got to ride on a bus with him during the championship parade in San Francisco. It was the ultimate experience for a fan of football, particularly of the 49ers.
Looking back on it, Shanahan can only smile when he thinks back to that time. He cherishes the moments he got to spend with his father on such a massive stage. And now, he may have a shot at sharing a new moment of triumph with his dad.
The Shanahans have a chance to be the first father-son duo to win Super Bowls as head coaches after becoming the first pair to each appear in Super Bowls as head coaches.
“Those are things that you find out because someone told you,” Shanahan said. “Winning a Super Bowl is something that I couldn’t have imagined for my dad and then to do it for myself, there’s nothing more that I could have imagined in sports.”
When asked about his history with the team, his time spent hanging out with players back when he was 15 years old, or even that Deion Sanders jersey, which was stolen a few years during his senior year of high school, Shanahan quickly brushes off its significance.
He calls the opportunity to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to San Francisco a “dream come true,” and now has a chance to turn it into reality. What makes it even more special is that it can be with a team he’s been cheering on his whole life.
“Just winning a Super Bowl is enough,” Shanahan said. “That kind of consumes you.”