On Wednesday, four days before hosting the Packers for the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers hosted a lesser-known event: the dog and pony show.
That was head coach Kyle Shanahan’s term for the changes in the auditorium at Levi’s Stadium where he conducts his news conferences.
For starters, the place was packed with reporters, and some decorative touches had been added. To Shanahan’s left, on a table, was a 49ers helmet, a Packers helmet and, between them, the George H. Halas Trophy, which will be given to Sunday’s winner. Behind Shanahan, the 49ers’ background had been replaced with a backdrop featuring NFC Championship Game logos.
Shanahan referenced the alterations when asked about potential distractions that come with playing in such a big game.
“I know by this background and these helmets next to me there’s a lot more dog and pony show,” Shanahan said. “But, hopefully, our players know it’s just Wednesday like it’s been all year. And tomorrow will be Thursday.”
On Saturday, 33 of the 46 players on the 49ers’ game-day roster were in uniform for their first postseason game. And they sure didn’t appear jittery in a 27-10 divisional-playoff romp over the Vikings.
Now, however, they are one win from the Super Bowl. That can bring more pressure. And it certainly brings more media: On Wednesday, a group of more than 40 reporters, broadcasters and photographers jammed a media room that’s typically occupied by fewer than 10 media members.
This is foreign territory for most of the 49ers: Only seven have played in a conference championship game, and that group includes quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who took the final two snaps of a title-game win in January 2015 when he was a backup with the Patriots.
That group also includes wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, whose nine playoff games rank second on the team behind cornerback Richard Sherman (13).
Sanders, 32, is among the players dispensing advice this week. In his case, he’s counseling position mates who include rookie Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne, both 24.
Sanders’ message involves tuning out the outside noise and limiting non-football activities. It’s what he heard as a rookie with the Steelers in 2010 when he was part of a wide receiver group that included Hines Ward, who was a 13-year veteran. Pittsburgh lost to the Packers in the Super Bowl that season. Sanders won a Super Bowl with the Broncos after the 2015 season.
“I remember once the playoffs started, Hines was like, ‘All the extracurricular actives you guys are doing, get rid of those. Get rid of the extracurricular, and let’s home in on trying to do something special now,’” Sanders said. “That’s why I kind of tell young guys: ‘Let’s lock in for two or three weeks, and at the end, hopefully we’ll be saying, “We’re the world champs,” and the offseason is yours.
“‘They will be calling you “champ” all the way up until next season.’”
Left tackle Joe Staley, 35, the only player remaining who was with the 49ers when they reached their last NFC Championship Game in January 2014, acknowledged Sunday’s game could produce some added nerves.
“There are more eyes on you, and a lot of this stuff creates maybe some anxiety in the younger players that haven’t been there,” Staley said. “But it’s the same exact game. It’s the same exact thing. We’re a special team. And we just go out there and execute the game plan and have a great week of practice. And all that other stuff we’ll handle.”
Last week, when Shanahan met the media for the first time in the playoffs, he walked into the auditorium, noticed the bigger audience and said it was the biggest media gathering since the introductory news conference for him and general manager John Lynch in 2017.
On Wednesday, the dog and pony show became bigger.
And the 49ers hope it grows into a full-blown circus by earning a trip to the Super Bowl.
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