No bubble: 49ers manage their mental health at temporary home in Arizona

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Under normal circumstances, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would rush home after a long day of work and try to spend any remaining time in his day with his family. Perhaps for yet another re-watch of "The Office" or a quick shellacking in the video game Halo courtesy of 8-year-old daughter Lexi.

But in the most unusual of situations in the most unusual of years, Shanahan's options are limited right now while sequestered in Arizona.

"It's kind of pathetic," Shanahan said, laughing. "But on downtime I enjoy watching film.

"I've always enjoyed watching football and it's more fun when you're doing it just because you don't have anything else to do at the time. That was a pretty bad answer, but there's not anything else to do."

Evicted from their home at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, late last month because of county COVID-19 guidelines temporarily banning contact sports, the 49ers have set up shop at the Renaissance Hotel in Glendale, Arizona. And in their downtime, the 49ers are trying to manage their mental health.

The move happened quickly and without warning. The county announced the restrictions Nov. 28 as the Niners were headed to Los Angeles to play the Rams. Four days later, the 49ers flew to Arizona, where the Cardinals provided them a home for games -- State Farm Stadium -- as well as the use of surrounding practice fields.

Those fields sit within walking distance of the Renaissance, which houses the Niners' entire football operation. There's a nearly 15,000-square-foot ballroom that has been turned into a part-time locker room as well as enough space for what Shanahan calls a "minor" weight room.

The setup has drawn positive reviews from players and coaches, with Shanahan calling it the "best scenario for us."

With the logistical challenges solved, Shanahan turned his attention to his players. Shanahan pulled about 20 players aside once they arrived in the desert and asked them to be vigilant in looking out for one another, particularly when it comes to mental health.

The 49ers aren't in a strict bubble. While players have the option to bring their families to Arizona and find other accommodations with those family members (and a few have), the time at the hotel when the workday is done isn't a time to gather. This isn't like the NBA bubble, where players had entertainment options on the hotel grounds and could meet in their rooms for long card games or in-person video game battles.

"You read about the NBA players in the bubble and all the mental issues they went through," Shanahan said. "Those guys were at least allowed to hang with each other. We're not. We're basically just in rooms here. ... It's just understanding that it's human nature. Some stuff's going to come up over the next three weeks and no one ignore it. Just always bring it to someone's attention because the worst thing you could be in these situations is feel kind of alone on an island and we've got a big group going through it, so we can rally together and make sure we help each other through it."

Much of the Niners' first week in Arizona was spent trying to get used to their surroundings. Players worked to understand the layout and the schedule so they could fall back into a routine. At night, they'd retire to their rooms and various activities.

Many turn to video games. Call of Duty is the game of choice and offers the best opportunity to bond, as teammates can put on a headset and chat while they play. To maximize the gaming, assistant Nick Kray has even put in some extra time working to increase the internet bandwidth at the hotel.

"You can't sit there and bond and play cards and shoot the stuff," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "That's what's cool about technology. We can sit there with mics and play video games and still social distance and have a good time and still have some version of brotherhood."

For others, such as defensive lineman Kerry Hyder Jr., the move is to lay back and watch a movie -- though, as Shanahan notes, there are no new movies on the hotel pay channel, so choices are limited to streaming services. Free safety Jimmie Ward seeks out the best food he can find and watches film. Others have brought musical instruments.

"It's like maybe a monthlong bowl game," left tackle Trent Williams said. "It's not easy being here for that long a period of time. But I think we all understand the goal at hand and how important this time of the year is for us. Fortunately, it's 2020 and we're so used to getting pulled each way and told what you can and can't do and I think that ultimately will help us just adapt to the situation."

When Santa Clara County announced the restrictions, they were set to last for at least three weeks. But the 49ers moved to Arizona with the idea they could be there through the end of the season. They're already planning to stay through the Dec. 26 game against the Cardinals and will do everything they can to get as much family to town for Christmas as possible.

It's another difficult challenge in a year full of them, but the 49ers are keeping it in perspective. Their current circumstance isn't ideal, but it could be worse.

"We are getting to do what we love," Sherman said. "Regardless of the circumstances, there are people out there losing jobs, losing houses, having huge issues and we just feel sorry for the county of Santa Clara that we can't do more. When you get kicked out, there's so many guys that are active in the community and the holidays are coming up and we can't go back and give away gifts and be able to help people in need. That's the unfortunate part of this situation. But in terms of what we've got to do, it's very minimal."