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Joe Staley’s emotional postgame realization belies unfortunate reality

MIAMI — Joe Staley knows it. We all know it. There were signs of it in this rare, injury-plagued year. And then like it never happened, Joe was Joe again, looking every part the six-time Pro Bowler he is.

His teammates saw it.

“He was unbelievable,” said fellow tackle Mike McGlinchey after the 49ers’ NFC West-clinching win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17. “He looked like Joe Staley, again, these last few weeks. He’s kind of been building building building… the way that he played and the dominance that he showed was really really cool and it’s the reason why he’s the best and why he’s been the best for as long as he’s been playing… He did it in the hardest of circumstances and showed why he is Joe Staley.”

His coaches saw it.

“He’s playing so well,” offensive line coach John Benton told KNBR on Monday. “And, and as well as he’s playing — I mean he’s playing like a top tackle in the league, if not the top… But as much as that, the energy and leadership he brings in our room is as good as I’ve ever been around. It’s positive but demanding. It’s good-natured but demanding. Obviously makes all our jobs a lot easier.”

But the reality is, Staley is 35 years old. In his 13 years, he’s experienced just four winning seasons. He signed an extension with the 49ers for another two years in this past season, at the conclusion of which, he’ll be 37.

The clock is ticking.

Most of Staley’s teammates have plenty more time to go to another Super Bowl. He doesn’t. And he knows that.

“I’m sorry. This is very hard being in this moment right now,” Staley said. “You put your heart and soul, your whole entire life into trying to be a Super Bowl champion and you get towards the end of your career and you realize how rare these opportunities are. The emotions are all still raw and real right now. I’m trying to answer questions and I’m sorry that I’m not, but put yourself in my shoes for a second, it’s tough.”

There was a level of devastation for each 49ers player who spoke after the game.

“It’s pretty brutal,” George Kittle said.

“It sucks coming up short,” DeForest Buckner said.

But those guys are coming from the perspective of retooling and getting back to the grind. Staley has stated repeatedly this season that he wants to keep playing, and there’s no reason to believe that’s not true.

But after years of grinding, Staley was hoping this would be the time it paid off. It should have paid off. It just didn’t.

“This is really sad,” Staley said. “Sad. Kind of a whirlwind game. I don’t really have any thoughts, just pretty disappointed.”

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