Inside the bright sunlit garage of George Kittle’s offseason Nashville home is a makeshift gym comprising the usual suspects: a bench in the center, plates, bands and mirrors strung up against the walls.
The interior of his garage — Kittle’s personal air-conditioned bubble, perfect for pandemic social distancing — is adorned with flags from the University of Iowa, the 2019 Pro Bowl and the United States of America. They’re an expression of who the San Francisco 49ers tight end is.
Then, there’s the unmistakable crown jewel:
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“I’ve got a StairMaster if you wanna work out,” Kittle says, not kidding.
Mixed in with dozens of bottles of Gatorade in the corner of the garage is the occasional Bud Light or Bud Light Seltzer box. And there are plenty more throughout the house.
“You guys want a beer to take home or anything?” Kittle asks the masked and gloved members of the camera crew who have arrived to film the interview. “You guys like seltzer? I get it for free.”
That’s George Kittle. He is incredibly authentic while simultaneously generous with his time, and with his stuff. Like everyone else, he’s just trying to stay safe and keep busy during the pandemic while also, in his case, maintaining his mantra on the field: cero miedo.
Wrestling and the Super Bowl
Underneath the rack station in the corner of the garage are folding chairs from WrestleMania 35 — literally, Kittle’s actual seats from the event — which he attended in New York last year. On the cushions are collages of the faces of some of its stars, like Ronda Rousey and Dave Bautista.
It’s a nod to Kittle’s love of WWE, one he professes regularly on Twitter. But one wrestler is missing, the one who inspired Kittle’s mantra and his first-down celebration: Mexican superstar luchador, Pentagon.
The gesture is simple, and Kittle encourages everyone in the room to try it: Extend your arm and put three fingers in the air — your middle finger, ring finger and pinkie — form an “O” with a closed circle of your thumb and pointer finger. Then swing it down.
If it seems familiar, that’s because, of Kittle’s 85 catches last season, 53 of them went for first downs. Sitting in the garage and shaking out his first haircut of the pandemic, Kittle recalls exchanging gifts and mutual respect with Pentagon at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans.
When asked about his gift from Pentagon, Kittle jumps out of his chair quickly to go get it. Two minutes later, he returns to the garage with a bright red and gold luchador mask.
“This is his mask, but he customized it,” said Kittle, who gave Pentagon a jersey. “There’s a dragon on the side. It’s in the 49ers colors. He threw up the number 85 on there for me. It’s definitely one of my favorite items that I own.”
“Don’t ask my wife, but I definitely walk around the house in this thing.”
For Kittle, cero miedo — “zero fear” in English — isn’t just a flashy gesture to annoy his opponents after a first down. It’s his attitude. It’s an audacious mindset that enables Kittle to see only the positive, especially in how his 2019 campaign ended: the 49ers 31-20 loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. A loss, he says, that could be considered the “lowest of lows.”
Still for Kittle, there’s always an upside.
“The fact that I got to meet The Rock was pretty special,” he says.
The pregame introductions for Super Bowl LIV had The Rock, former WWE superstar Dwayne Johnson, introducing players to the crowd and the TV audience with some swagger and some trash talk — WWE style.
“Straight from the People’s Champion himself,” Johnson began, while gesturing for Kittle to join him on stage, “allow me to introduce you … to the People’s Tight End.”
Kittle pauses to remove the hair tie from the man bun that’s been sitting on top of his head, and shakes out his hair again.
“I felt like a little kid meeting a superhero,” he says. “That was one of the coolest things about the whole Super Bowl. I took his one bottle of tequila that he had. It was delicious.”
The season ahead
This offseason hasn’t been the best of times for anyone, but Kittle’s personal gym — StairMaster included — has been a haven during quarantine, his own bubble of safety and isolation where he immunized his body and his mind for the field.
It’s a big year for Kittle, who, after back-to-back seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards, is due for a new contract in the spring.
This week, as he finds himself more than 2,000 miles away in Santa Clara, contemplating what could be a complicated football future, he’s already prepared to face whatever comes next.
“When you’re playing football, you have to have that zero fear,” Kittle says. “Because if you’re scared, you’re going to maybe not reach out for a ball, because there’s a safety in the middle of the field. Or you might not want to make a play because you’re going to be hit really hard.
“You have to have zero fear.”