MIAMI -- Joe Staley stood in his new teammate's house and saw a familiar number emblazoned across a framed jersey hung on the wall.
The No. 74 shirt was the high school jersey of then-rookie Mike McGlinchey, a first-round pick of the 49ers out of Notre Dame who was nine years younger than the veteran. Staley knew McGlinchey represented the organization's future along the offensive line, but what he didn't know is the new addition "revered him forever."
"He looked at me funny and he's like 'What's that about?'" McGlinchey recalled of the moment Staley saw the jersey. "I was like 'Nothing.' And I didn't tell him the story until later until we got to know each other a little better."
"I gave him so much (crap) about it," Staley said with a smile. "I was like 'Dude, I didn't know I was your hero.'"
Staley had been McGlinchey's idol since the younger lineman was 16 years old following a meeting with Notre Dame coaches. The prized Irish commit was told by former Notre Dame strength coach Paul Longo that he reminded the coach of Staley, whom Longo had coached at Central Michigan.
McGlinchey returned home and immediately researched Staley, discovering his Pro Bowl pedigree and role as a leader of a team headed to the Super Bowl. McGlinchey changed his jersey number to match Staley's 74 and began to model himself after the All-Pro. Seven years later, he became Staley's teammate.
"It was really, really surreal," McGlinchey recalled of the moment he became a 49er. "Because I remember the night I got picked, one of the first texts I got was from a random number that I didn't have. I read this paragraph and, at the end of it, it said 'Joe Staley' and I was like 'Oh, wait, that's pretty cool.'"
Fast-forward nearly two years later and Staley and McGlinchey are both in South Florida preparing to play in Super Bowl LIV. It's McGlinchey's first trip to the biggest game in football, and he's making the appearance alongside the only 49er remaining from the team's last Super Bowl appearance back in 2013.
The 49ers are here for a number of reasons, including their offensive line's ability to decisively open holes for San Francisco's stable of running backs. Anchored by Staley, the group blew open massive running lanes for the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, helping Raheem Mostert finish with 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Staley has had to battle injuries and fight through the dark days of the 49ers, when he played for three head coaches in as many years and won a combined 15 of a possible 48 games. Things turned toward the brighter end of the tunnel with the arrival of Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, and with them came the selection of McGlinchey in 2018.
Since then, it's been about building toward Sunday. Along the way, Staley also forged a tight bond with McGlinchey.
"We have a very older brother-younger brother relationship," Staley said. "We've gotten into screaming arguing matches, arguing bouts in the facility (about) anything. Whatever we're talking about, just having a spat about whatever. ... Then all of a sudden five minutes later we're having a discussion like it never happened.
"We have a very unique bond ... we spend a lot of time together. He's actually made me a lot younger."
It's somewhat remarkable in an age in which plenty of veterans aren't exactly keen on helping their possible replacement adjust to the pro game. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, for example, was open about not wanting to assist Mason Rudolph when Pittsburgh brought the signal-caller in via the draft.
Not Staley. The veteran saw a chance to help someone, and also saw his own experience in McGlinchey's.
"I think it's a little bit because I remember how it was being a first-round pick back in 2007. I came in really serious," Staley recalled. "How weird that transition was for me, I just wanted to kind of put myself in his shoes and try to make it as seamless as I could. I think that's why it happened so quick is because I kind of wanted to be a mentor and he really wanted to be (mentored) and we developed a really close friendship. It kind of just happened."
Staley went from being a Grand Rapids, Michigan, native to a standout at a directional Michigan school to a first-round pick clear across the country. He understood what McGlinchey was about to encounter.
"First time I was ever in California was the day I was drafted," Staley said. "Knew nobody."
Such commonalities (and a little bit of idol worship) led to McGlinchey and Staley becoming brothers, minus the blood relation, a bond Staley said he hasn't shared with another teammate in his career.
"It's been unreal," McGlinchey said. "I get to sit in the same room and sit next to a guy in my meeting room that I looked up to since I was 16."
All week, 49ers on both sides of the ball have raved about the culture established by Lynch and Shanahan, with much of the credit due to Lynch's relatability and Shanahan's humility. Unlike other coaches, Shanahan is unafraid to admit fault, his players have said, and when he backs up his personable nature with his high football acumen, it packs a wallop of clout.
Staley and McGlinchey's bond is reflective of such culture, which has produced an incredibly tight-knit locker room.
"Kyle and John made that a priority to who they were and who this team was gonna be and I think we're reaping the rewards of that," McGlinchey said. "We have great guys everywhere. There isn't a bad guy in our locker room. I don't think a lot of NFL teams can say that. I'm very, very proud to be a part of a team and organization that has that."
"I think just being myself with Mike and really the whole offensive line, I'd say it's more indicative of the whole entire team," Staley said. "Just the kind of person Kyle is, we don't have that authoritative figure, that figurehead above everybody. It's just kind of how everybody's put together, everybody's going in the same direction trying to get to the same place. He treats us all like men, doesn't treat us like we're children or anything. It's fun to be around, kind of fosters a mutual respect."
As much as players rave about Shanahan, McGlinchey arguably speaks even more positively about Staley. He's effusive in his praise for his teammate.
"Joe's grown into one of my best friends," McGlinchey said. "I'm so thankful, one for the 49ers that picked me and got me to this team and this organization, from our ownership being the best, general manager, head coach and all that, but it gave me Joe. That's one thing that I'll always -- I would not have the success that I've had this year, even last year being able to hold my own, I wouldn't say I had a ton of success last year but I was able to hold my own and compete really, really hard because of Joe and the things that he's taught me and the way that he's helped me get along in this league, not only as a player but as a person. Settling into the Bay Area, anything that comes with everything, I've always leaned on Joe.
"He's been an unbelievable asset, not only for my career and as a mentor, but like I said, he's grown into my best friend, too," McGlinchey said. "It's really hard to formulate that when you're 24, I was 23 when I came into the league, he was 33, but we think the same, we act the same, we play the same and that's what's really been cool about the way our friendship has grown."
With Staley saying he vacillates between feeling like he has five years left in football some days, and "five minutes" others, there's no guarantee he'll get another shot at winning a Super Bowl. Before Shanahan arrived, he didn't even think he'd again come close to such an opportunity. And odds are more likely he won't get a third chance, adding to the sense of urgency for the 49ers.
While the Chiefs are aiming to win one for coach Andy Reid, San Francisco wants to win one for Staley, the venerated O.G. of these Niners who has been through hell and back in red and gold.
"You've got to put this work in constantly, no matter the good, the bad, the ugly, whatever it is and now he's reaping the rewards of that," McGlinchey said of Staley. "That's why it's kind of a little bit extra special for him this week. If we can get this Super Bowl, I know how much it'll mean to him. It'll mean everything to everybody, but after 13 years of fighting, scratching, clawing, it really does a lot for people."