What it’s like for 49ers after temporary move to Arizona
To cap an already unprecedented season happening during an unprecedented pandemic, the San Francisco 49ers had two days to pick up their entire operation and move more than 700 miles to the Arizona desert.
“It’s honestly just the exact same as we were in Santa Clara,” linebacker Fred Warner said Thursday.
That’s because the team’s work schedule hasn’t changed and their routines are largely the same after they were annexed to Glendale. There’s still a locker room, training room, makeshift food area and even a newly constructed weight room available as the team prepares to spend at least the next three weeks, and likely more, away from the Bay Area.
It’s all been installed inside of the Glendale Renaissance Hotel’s event space. The hotel is within walking distance of State Farm Stadium and the team’s practice field, which it used for the first time Thursday by getting players there on a convoy of golf carts.
“It’s not a convention center, but it almost feels like it,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We’re able to have like a 15,000-square-foot ballroom that we can turn into a part-time locker room, so we don’t have to change over there. We can change before we go and also, so we can have a minor weight room in here, too. So, a lot of space in here for us, and that’s why it’s been convenient.”
It all came together after the team returned home Sunday night after beating the Rams in L.A. The team finalized its plans Monday and announced them Tuesday. The 49ers have people working in communications, the training and medical staffs, equipment, player engagement, preparing meals and generating content for the team’s website that will also stay at the hotel.
Moving everything to Glendale was made possible by the 49ers’ logistics staff, including its director, Steve Risser, manager Mike Slap and team logistics coordinator, Stephen Spencer, who have been popular names shouted out by players and coaches this week. The team has also been effusive in its praise for the Arizona Cardinals, who have been accommodating in helping the NFL’s first and only team to change home venues this season.
The ease of convenience will likely wear off as the team spends more time away from the Bay Area. Players are just getting settled in while they were forced to uproot from their families because of Santa Clara County’s pandemic restrictions that included outlawing contact sports in the area. The irony: Maricopa County’s COVID-19 cases are spiking at a higher rate than Santa Clara’s.
49ers create bubble in arid Arizona
But that hasn’t impacted the 49ers yet because they don’t plan on leaving their newly created soft bubble, which means lots of streaming television shows and movies, reading, playing video games and studying film in isolation. Players are not allowed to congregate, save for the practice field, and will spend the vast majority of their stint holed up in their individual rooms. Full-team and positional meetings will all happen over Zoom.
“I’m not a huge video game guy,” quarterback Nick Mullens said. “But I know that we have a solid crowd on our team that does like the Xbox and PlayStation. So yeah, I’m sure there’s some guys who brought the systems and are definitely going to find a way to pass their time that way. But, we’re just focused on being here, playing football and doing our jobs just like regular.”
Many questions Shanahan and his players have been posed this week have to do with mental health. And for good reason. NBA players who participated in the Orlando bubble over the summer discussed the mental hurdles they faced by not being able to leave the Disney resort area in Orlando. A key difference, those players were allowed to hang out, go fishing, play cards and billiard games. For now, that’s not allowed for the 49ers.
Which is why Shanahan spoke to roughly 20 of his players upon arrival Wednesday. He made sure to point out that anyone can reach out for help if they need it.
“I just try to tell everyone, no matter what, when someone has a problem, whatever it is, there’s no problem too big or too small,” Shanahan said. “A lot of guys keep that stuff internally.”
“We have lots of people here who aren’t coaches or players who can help people,” he continued. “So it’s just understanding that it’s human nature. Some stuff’s going to come up over the next three weeks and no one ignore it. Just always bring it to someone’s attention because the worst thing you could be in these situations is feel kind of alone on an island and we’ve got a big group going through it, so we can rally together and make sure we help each other through it.”
Shanahan said he told the players they will be able to spend the upcoming holidays with family members, who would presumably fly to Arizona to join them. Until then, it’s all football, with a focus trying to make an unlikely run to the playoffs. Sunday’s win in L.A. put the 49ers at 5-6 on the season and just a game out of the seventh wild card spot.
“It’s just a matter of staying locked in,” Warner said, “making sure we’re full steam ahead going into this week against the Bills.”