SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers found out that they had become NFL nomads for at least the next three weeks the same way the rest of the world did on Saturday afternoon: via a news conference.
The team was on its plane heading to Los Angeles to play the Rams when word spread that Santa Clara County had announced new COVID-19-related restrictions that put a three-week ban on all contact sports within county lines.
Word spread quickly on social media, and soon, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan was inundated with players, coaches and family members wondering what it means. He wasn’t pleased with the lack of a heads-up from the county.
“For us to be heading out here yesterday and the relationship we have with them and for our players and coaches and everyone on that plane and our wives to find that out while we’re getting on a plane and no one to tell us, it was just extremely disappointing,” Shanahan said. “I get it: They made that decision, and we’ve got to deal with it, but to find that out through a tweet or a press conference, where I have an entire plane coming up to me, I have all wives, everyone’s girlfriends, everyone’s family members, kids, saying they heard we could be gone for the entire month of December? Are we going to be quarantined for 14 days when we get back?
“That’s all we could talk about for the last 18 hours because we got no answers from them. I was just very disappointed.”
That curveball left the 49ers spending most of their time in Los Angeles thinking and talking about where they will be for the bulk of the holiday season.
Despite the obvious distraction, the Niners managed to keep their focus on Sunday’s game against Los Angeles. The fact that they were able to pull off a 23-20 win against the Rams to stay in the NFC playoff picture left Shanahan beaming with pride.
“I’ve got so much appreciation for our team and those players, and I’m very proud to be those guys’ coach,” Shanahan said after the game.
Now, as the Niners turn their attention toward their next game, set for Dec. 7 against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, they must figure out where they will practice and then where the game will be played.
A league source told ESPN on Saturday night that the team and the NFL had been working through potential contingencies as far back as the preseason, when it was unclear whether the Niners would get the county’s blessing to begin training camp at Levi’s Stadium.
Two of the options discussed then — Texas and Arizona — remain strong candidates to host Niners “home” games, as neither the Cowboys nor the Cardinals have day-of-game schedule conflicts with the 49ers’ remaining contests. Arizona was thought to be the most likely destination before the season, but the 49ers are still working through possibilities both in and out of California.
Beyond that, the Niners have to figure out where they can practice. They could create a sort of bubble near wherever they end up playing games, but their preference remains to practice in the Bay Area and fly to their remaining games.
“Everyone has been so committed to this, so the biggest thing for me is just all of us leaving our families,” Shanahan said. “We’re all humans just like everyone else, and it’s a big deal to leave your family for the whole month of December — a huge deal, as everyone knows. … We need to find a place we can feel safe and stay because we’re not going to be able to go to our homes anymore that are safe. So we’re going to have to stay in a hotel or somewhere. So that’s where it would start. Second thing is we need a practice field to play on, and then obviously, we need a stadium to play in. I’m not going to be that picky, but we need some obvious things.”
Because the Niners’ next game is on Monday, it buys them a little more time to firm up plans. Shanahan said the team needs three good days of practice, but because they aren’t playing a Sunday game, the on-field preparation doesn’t have to begin until Thursday. Still, answers will be needed in the next day or two for logistical purposes.
Based on how this year has gone, the 49ers know it’s best to prepare for anything.
“Right now, we don’t have a home,” running back Raheem Mostert said. “We don’t know where we’re going to be, and it’s up to the organization and the county and stuff like that to figure those things out. As players, we’ve got to do our job to make sure we protect each other.”