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Niners HC Kyle Shanahan reflects on upbringing, chance to win Super Bowl with Ed McCaffrey's son

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Kyle Shanahan has been to the Super Bowl before. 

Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs will mark his third career appearance, and second as head coach. But he'd likely have never reached this point if he hadn't grown up a coach's son.

Luckily for him, Shanahan was raised by a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach: his father, Mike. And as Kyle Shanahan said on Tuesday, that has made all the difference.

"Being a coach's son, just very fortunate to be around it so much. Especially at the NFL level," Shanahan told reporters on Tuesday. "My dad went to the NFL when I was 4 years old, so just being around it my whole life. You don't realize how much it helps you 'til you get in it and you realize a lot of the stuff that you've been around and it makes it a little easier. I think, not only the son of a coach, but my dad's the best coach I've ever been around. So to be around that good of one I think also was a huge advantage for me.

"He never was really training me to be a coach, he was just being my dad. And just the way he went about everything and how direct he was with people, how honest he was with people, how hard he worked. As a son and someone you work with, that's all you can ask from people."

Shanahan was refreshingly open on the topic Tuesday, delivering thoughtful responses as he reflected on his upbringing. It began as it does for most every aspirational boy, with NFL dreams dancing through his thoughts. He already had plenty of up-close experience with the pro game, and as a teen, he gravitated toward Broncos receivers.

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At that point, he'd have never guessed that one day, he'd become a coach. He was solely focused on making it to the NFL as a player.

"I was always in my dad's ear, every second annoying the heck out of my sister and my mom every meal we probably ever had together. Or car ride. Just asking questions about football," Shanahan said. "I loved football just as a true fan. Loved playing in the backyard all the time. I remember right in eighth grade, telling him how I wanted to play professional sports, I wanted to earn a scholarship and which sport should I try? I know football, it'll probably be the hardest one for me.

"I remember him telling me on this long car ride how you've just got to commit to it and do it. I remember setting up a plan then on how to work out and do all this stuff. From that standpoint on, I was always trying to be a player. Trying to get a scholarship, trying to play in college, things like that. 

"I think once my fifth year hit and the reality of what I was as a player hit, then I think I started to think about it. I was like, you know what, I think I want to coach. I don't want to stop being around football right now, and you know what, I think I've actually kind of been working at this my whole life because it's a little bit easier than playing. And I think it kind of naturally happened."

Imagine how teenager Shanahan would have reacted if he was told he'd coach the superstar son of one of those Broncos receivers.

"I was so close with Christian's dad growing up," Shanahan said of former Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, father of current 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. "Him and Rod Smith were the two receivers on the Broncos, when I was throughout high school trying to be a receiver, those were the guys I tried to cut my shoes like, wear the same shoulder pads, meet them after school to run routes and do workouts throughout the summer, everything. His dad was such a gym rat and just such a technician. Him and Rod taught me almost everything I know about playing, which gave me a chance to play. 

"Then it was just so funny watching Christian over the years. Hearing about him in high schools, to at Stanford, going to the draft and everything. I just couldn't believe how talented he was. But I also knew his dad and how psychotic his dad was with his work ethic and his attention to detail. 

"That's what's been so neat trading for Christian and actually getting to know him. I feel like I'm watching Ed half the time. (Ed's wife) Lisa, the other half, she probably had a little better personality, which is in Christian. But it's funny how the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, and I'm sure they've got some similarities watching me with my dad."

One can't help but smile at how Shanahan ended his response, because he truly is a chip off the old block. Much like his father's zone-run scheme propelled a stable of running backs to success with the Broncos, Kyle's offensive genius has helped mold the 49ers into an elite contender, and in turn, shape the future of the NFL. They've followed similar paths, too: Mike won a Super Bowl as an assistant in San Francisco, then two as head coach in Denver. All three wins included the involvement of Ed McCaffrey.

Therein lies the difference, though: Kyle is making his third Super Bowl appearance, and his second as head coach. Sunday will be his first experienced with McCaffrey on his team. And unlike his father, Kyle has only known the feeling of defeat.

He's hoping to change that Sunday. If all goes according to plan, Ed's son will play an integral part in their triumph.

In that moment, the football world might experience some deja vu by witnessing a Shanahan and a McCaffrey sharing another Lombardi Trophy.

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