Brett Carolan’s father, Reggie, died in Marin when Brett was just 11 years old. Despite growing up largely without him, Brett said, Reggie influenced his life in countless ways — nowhere more than in the sports world.
Reggie, who was drafted in 1961, played two seasons with the San Diego Chargers and five with the Kansas City Chiefs. He earned a Super Bowl ring in the 1969-70 season — the last time the Chiefs won a championship — despite being sidelined for the big game with a knee injury.
A Drake High graduate and former teacher at Tam High, Reggie played football, basketball and ran track at the University of Idaho. He was selected an American Football League all-star as a rookie with the Chargers and helped the Chiefs capture the 1966 AFL title. He played in Super Bowl I, a loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“He drove me to say, ‘What can I achieve if I work extremely hard and have some luck along the way?’” said Brett Carolan, 48, who went on to play tight end, like his father.
It turned out Brett could achieve quite a bit. After catching passes from future NFL player and coach Mike McCoy at San Marin High in Novato, Brett played college football for Washington State University. He went undrafted out of Pullman and signed with the San Francisco 49ers ahead of the 1994 season.
That year, the 49ers — led by the likes of Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Brent Jones and Ricky Watters — went on to finish the regular season 13-3 and win Super Bowl XXVIII with a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Miami. Brett was not on the active roster during the Super Bowl, but he still received the hardware.
Members of the last Super Bowl-winning Chiefs and 49ers rosters included Reggie and Brett Carolan, respectively.
On Sunday, the two teams square off in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
Brett, who played two seasons with the 49ers and one with the Miami Dolphins, spoke to his mother, Judy Carolan, the other day and afterward she sent him a photo of Brett and Reggie’s Super Bowl rings next to each other.
“It’s actually really cool,” said Brett, who grew up a fan of the Oakland Raiders. “In a little bit, one of these organizations is going to have another ring.
“I’m leaning to San Francisco because that’s where I played and it’s such a good organization. But it’s been a lot longer for Kansas City. It’s going to be so fun to watch.”
Carolan and his wife, Amy, whom he met at WSU, have lived in Seattle since 1997. They have two kids in high school: a son, Quinn, and a daughter, Riley. Carolan has worked as a partner at a wealth-management firm for 17 years. After 15 years of coaching youth sports in the area, he took this year off to spend more time with his children.
Recently, his trips back to Marin County are typically scheduled around the Dipsea Race, which he first ran at 8 years old.
“I grew up running on Mount Tam and I’ve run the Dipsea more than 20 times,” he said. “I still have a lot of good friends in the Bay Area who I love seeing.”
At San Marin, Carolan earned all-league selections three times for the Mustangs, hauling in 69 passes for 1,000 yards as a senior en route to being named MCAL Player of the Year. Carolan, a first-team selection at linebacker and punter as well, was named the San Francisco Examiner’s North Bay Player of the Year after leading San Marin to a 10-0 ledger. He also earned league MVP and all-state honors as a basketball player.
At WSU, Carolan caught three touchdowns and was a second-team all-Pac 10 selection in his final season as a junior, finishing with a team-high 49 receptions for 591 yards.
Carolan was in awe when he signed with San Francisco. The 49ers were loaded. Their offensive coordinator was Mike Shanahan. Their ball boy was Shanahan’s son, Kyle, who will be leading the 49ers as head coach this Sunday.
“You can see that he watched things very closely and had a very good teacher in his dad,” Carolan said of Kyle Shanahan. “And I remember (current 49ers general manager) John Lynch from Torrey Pines (High), playing against him in the Pac 10 (Stanford) and through the NFL. They’ve brought that organization back to where they haven’t been for so long.”
Carolan, who was a wide-eyed, 6-foot-3, 241-pound 24-year-old at the time, said he was “totally spoiled.”
“I worked my ass off, but, man, I was pretty lucky and fortunate,” he added. “I just remember Mike Shanahan’s offense and how much talent was on the field. We could run the same plays with different personnel and it would be just as effective. You saw such a high-functioning organization clicking on all cylinders at the right time.
“It was such a world-class organization, and I was really lucky to be a part of it.”
Carolan doesn’t watch many NFL games anymore, but he still keeps up on occasion. He hasn’t seen any playoff games this season, but he quickly noticed with a scan of the NFC championship game box score that Jimmy Garoppolo only threw the ball eight times for 77 yards in the team’s 37-20 rout of the Packers.
“Just by looking at that, if your quarterback throws eight passes and you win that convincingly, your defense must be very, very good,” he noted.
Carolan attended his first 49ers alumni weekend last year. He toured Levi’s Stadium and caught up with old teammates and friends he had not seen in decades. He also met 49ers players from all eras.
While no stories stick out from his time with the 49ers’ title-winning squad — “There are too many to think of,” he said — he does often mention the team’s work ethic when he talks to his kids or in business.
He said between the 49ers’ star-studded roster and his father’s exceptional career, hard work has always been a part of his life.
“I don’t think about (my time in the NFL) a lot because I get caught in my day to day stuff, but it left a huge impression on me,” Carolan said. “I tell everyone, if you’re going to succeed in life, you’re going to have to work hard. Watching people work at such an elite level left such a big imprint on me, and the organization showed me how you should treat people.
“I didn’t play a ton but it was such an awesome experience, and I carry that with me every day.”