Precious few NFL players get a true storybook ending to their careers. Winning a Super Bowl is rare, riding off into the sunset after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is rarer still. Examples of players who got the ultimate finale include John Elway, Jerome Bettis, and Michael Strahan. If the San Francisco 49ers can defeat the Chiefs on Sunday, could any Niners choose to go out on top?
Of course, to have the perfect ending, the Niners will need to do what they couldn't in 2020: beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. San Francisco led by 10 in the fourth quarter of that one, before ultimately letting it slip away by allowing 21 unanswered points.
This Niners team has many of the same pieces as the one that fell just short four years ago, including Kyle Shanahan, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner, among others. They'll be aided by an arsenal of newer weapons, though, including Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, Brock Purdy, Charvarius Ward (who played for the Chiefs in 2020), and Chase Young.
Let's take a look at three 49ers who could join Elway, Bettis, and Strahan as players who made it to the top of the mountain and then retired.
3. Tashaun Gipson Sr. nearly retired before 2023, so this could be it
There may be no better, more cost-effective signing in the last two years than the Niners adding Tashaun Gipson Sr. to their star-studded defense for just barely more than $2 million per year. Gipson had four stops in the league before calling San Francisco home, playing for the Browns, Texans, Jaguars, and Bears--not exactly a murderer's row of perennial contenders. Now he's playing in his first Super Bowl.
Gipson came to the 49ers after starting safety Jimmie Ward was injured before last season's training camp, and he's made the most of his opportunity by becoming a starter and an indispensable part of a defense loaded with star power. His forced fumble on Jahmyr Gibbs in the NFC Championship helped swing the momentum fully in his team's favor, without which the 49ers probably wouldn't have overcome an NFC Championship record 17-point deficit to reach the Super Bowl in the first place.
Just as he helped San Francisco survive Ward's injury in his first season in the Bay, Gipson's steadying presence in the secondary helped cover for the loss of Pro Bowl safety Talanoa Hufanga this year. By his own admission, though, the 12-year veteran nearly called it quits before San Francisco came calling last offseason. If red and gold confetti is falling at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday, Gipson might see that as the perfect time to hang it up.