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49ers' Kyle Shanahan pushes back against 'game manager' narrative following QB Brock Purdy

LAS VEGAS -- Brock Purdy sat at his podium inside Allegiant Stadium on Monday night and spoke about buying his fiancée perfume for Valentine's Day.

They have a wedding coming up, and they've been dancing to country music in preparation, he said. As chants of "Purdy, Purdy" rained down on him from 49ers fans in attendance, Purdy paid it no mind.

He's still the same kid who heard his name called last in the 2022 NFL Draft. He's derided by some as nothing more than a game manager of a quarterback. And he's about to play in his first Super Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was predictably asked about this narrative surrounding his quarterback -- the player he identified in San Francisco's 2022 training camp as possibly the team's best signal-caller -- and didn't shy from speaking honestly.

"It's such a weird conversation to hear the whole world talking about this," Shanahan told NFL Network's Michael Robinson on Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night. "In my opinion, there's no such thing as a great quarterback if you can't be a game manager. So, I don't get how being a system quarterback or a game manager is a negative. 

"Like, the job of a quarterback is to manage the game, and it is to run the system. The system is what you work on all week. That's what the O-line works on, that's what your five eligibles work on -- that's everything. And at quarterback, if you want to be great, you better be able to run that system and you better be able to manage the game.

"If you want to stay in that position, understand that no system is going to be perfect -- there's going to be times where you have no answers. If you want to stay there, you better make some plays. That's how you become a consistent quarterback. You're a game manager, you run the system right and you can make plays. And if you don't have those three things, it's a matter of time -- one game, two games, two years -- it's a matter of time. But Brock does all three of those things, so I don't, I don't get what we're talking about."

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Purdy's rise to stardom began amid a brutal year for injuries at quarterback for the 49ers, who were cast off as a doomed team the moment Purdy was forced into the lineup. He followed that up by going on an incredible run that saw the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game, a contest in which the injury bug finally came for Purdy.

A year later, Purdy is healthy and has gotten his team over the hump. And he's not riding the coattails of his talented teammates, either. Anyone who watched the 49ers' two heart-stopping playoff wins will agree he played an integral part in their success, especially in the fourth quarter.

None of that seemed to matter much on Monday, though, as Purdy maintained the same everyman demeanor he's always carried. Look no further than his response to a question about how he'd fill out a fantasy football team.

"One player? Oh man, we have so many. Can I list four? Or five?" Purdy said. "Christian McCaffrey, Deebo (Samuel), (Brandon) Aiyuk, (George) Kittle, the list goes on. JJ, Jajuan Jennings. I'd have my whole team on my fantasy team."

Game manager comes with a stigma because it unabashedly suggests the quarterback isn't special, only just good enough to make sure the ship doesn't go down in flames. But Purdy ascended to this place in part because of how well he fit in Shanahan's offense as a quarterback perfectly equipped to do exactly what the coach wanted.

Jimmy Garoppolo couldn't do it. Trey Lance -- a former first-round pick -- couldn't cut it. But Purdy, whose only prior claim to fame was being 2022's Mr. Irrelevant, proved Shanahan right by getting the job done time and time again.

"It's funny to hear Jed (York) say that because it wasn't the smartest moment I've ever had," Shanahan said of telling the 49ers' owner Purdy might being the best quarterback on the roster as a rookie. "I mean, when an owner comes in after a training camp practice, he's like, 'Hey, how's the quarterback?' -- what he means is the starter or the second -- and you in irritation go, 'I don't know, but our third guys is the best.' Like, that's not what he wants to hear. So, that's why he remembers it very strong.

"Brock was so good right away. With every rep he got, he was always the same, and he only got a couple of them. So, it was easy for me to say, because in his few reps he was the best. But, if you know that for a fact, I mean, then you do what you do right away, but he was the best and you ease that on. Every time he got a little more reps, it was the same when he only got two. And so when it was all said and done and he got a lot of playing time, it's like, 'Oh, this looks exactly like what I told you when I was irritated and he only had three reps and I said no he's the best.'

"That's what was so real about Brock. That's why after seven games his rookie year we knew what we had because he had been that way in practice every day and he was the exact same way in the games."

Shanahan was so convinced, he moved on from Garoppolo and traded Lance to Dallas, naming former first-rounder Sam Darnold as Purdy's backup. In one fell swoop, he detonated the quarterback room -- and San Francisco's previously ambitious plan -- for the guy he always believed in most.

Purdy will try to prove him right once again Sunday in Super Bowl LVIII.

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