SANTA CLARA — The two eldest position players on the 49ers have two of the worst locker locations on the team.
The 49ers have a regulation basketball hoop set up in the team’s locker room at Levi’s Stadium. The side of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders‘ locker is closest to the basket, where errant shots often drift.
Left tackle Joe Staley‘s cubicle is slightly shielded by Sanders’ locker, but it’s not exactly a prime spot, either.
“I love being locker buddies with Joe,” Sanders said on Tuesday. “With the basketball going on in there, he lets me sit by his locker, so I don’t get hit by a basketball. I told all my teammates, ‘I feel like the only way I’m going on IR is if I take a basketball to my head or something.’ “
Sanders immediately fit into the locker room since arriving in an October trade from the Denver Broncos. Staley, obviously, realizes how important it was for the 49ers to add such a skilled veteran at a position of need for the team’s playoff push.
The 49ers finished the regular season with a 13-3 record. They won the NFC West title and gained homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The 49ers play the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in a divisional-round game at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers are getting healthy on defense, and Sanders feels a lot more fresh after playing in 17 regular-season games. For the longest time since coming to the organization, his biggest concern was sustaining a basketball injury. Staley had his back.
“Those guys shoot all the time,” Sanders said. “I kind of scoot over into Joe’s locker. He will see me at his locker. I try to get up and he says, ‘No, you’re good, you’re good, you’re good.’ That shows you what kind of guy he is.”
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Sanders said he looks up to Staley because of the career he has worked so hard to achieve. Staley, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, is in his 13th NFL season, while Sanders is only three years behind him.
“He’s a guy that, I’m 10 years in the league, but I look up to because I want to be where he’s at some point in my career,” Sanders said. “What a great guy.”
Staley was stuck in the “doldrums” two years ago, was not sure two seasons ago if he wanted to continue to play. After the final year of Jim Harbaugh as coach, followed by one season apiece from Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, the 49ers were getting further and further from being competitive. Staley felt as if he was running out of time.
Then, Staley became convinced coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch could turn it around while he still had some good football in him.
“There were some dark years here in the franchise,” Staley said. “But once I met Kyle and John and the vision they had for the franchise, I was pretty confident we were going to get there.
“I was just happy I was still feeling the way I felt, still had years left to play, was going to be able to see this through. Excited to be here, have this opportunity, go get it done.”
Joe Staley helps protect 49ers veteran Emmanuel Sanders in locker room, too originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area