They were just minutes away from playing their biggest game yet, a spot in the Super Bowl going to the winner.
That’s when Taylor Embree looked at his father, Jon, and offered words of encouragement that expertly employed the sometimes trite and often overused idea of football as family.
“All right, Connor’s in,” he said just before San Francisco played Green Bay for the NFC championship. “So now, we’ve got to go win so we can have the Embree Bowl in Miami.”
On a day when Mike and Kyle Shanahan will become the first father and son to have coached Super Bowl teams, it’s the Embrees who will be the first family of Super Bowl LIV.
Jon is the tight ends coach for the 49ers and works with Taylor, who is an offensive quality control coach.
On the other side Sunday will be Connor, an offensive assistant for Kansas City. He is Jon’s younger son and Taylor’s little brother.
“I look at it as the best situation possible,” Connor said. “If we don’t win, I’ll be close to someone who did. But I’m going to do everything I can to try to make sure they’re the ones asking to see my championship ring.”
The 49ers and Chiefs are so closely matched that the game likely will have one of the slimmest betting point spreads ever. The Chiefs are currently 1½-point favorites.
But it’s an absolute sure bet that, by Sunday night, an Embree will have won the Super Bowl.
Taylor played wide receiver at UCLA before following his father into coaching. Connor played, too, but he said he knew he was on the path to becoming a football coach “probably by second grade.”
“Getting to share a moment like this with your kids is so unique,” Jon said. “I mean, to get to be inside the ropes. ... They’re going to be there for the coolest moments that normally no one gets to see or be a part of.”
The Embrees are in this together even as they remain separated by a wide football field and allegiances as starkly different as the Golden Gate is from Gates Bar-B-Q.
Connor and his father talk almost daily. But, the son explained, “That’s slowed down a bit lately.” A family dinner is planned for Friday night, when the Embrees will set out as a group and figure to be one of the few tables in this city not talking about the Super Bowl.
Natalyn, Jon’s wife and the boys’ mother, is in a no-lose situation, knowing someone will be bringing home a championship ring. The same goes for the baby of the family, daughter Hannah.
But that, according to Connor, doesn’t mean the rooting interests are equal. He said the San Francisco side has an undeniable home-field advantage when the home in question belongs to the Embrees.
“It’s everyone versus me,” Connor said. “The way my mom looks at it, the 49ers are paying the bills for her. My sister is always going to team up with my dad because she’s a daddy’s girl. So I’ll take any Chiefs fans I can get right now.”
This isn’t the first time the family has been split by football. In 2011, Jon was coaching Colorado when Taylor played his final home game for UCLA, against the Buffaloes.
That matchup went to Taylor and the Bruins by the uncomfortably wide margin of 45-6, a rare rout in a family founded on rivalries both playful and profound.
This father and two sons competed in everything, from racing to see who could get from the car to the restaurant first to who could win the most consecutive games of one-on-one.
Sunday will be just another in a long line of Embree showdowns, although this one will be witnessed by 150 million or so more people.
“It’ll be like it was growing up for them,” Jon said. “Let’s just say we had a competitive household. But, whoever wins, it’s not going to change the relationships that we have. It’s not going to weaken anything.”
A few years ago, all three Embrees were with the 49ers, though Connor wasn’t there in an official sense. He was volunteering, trying to gather as much experience as he could to build his resume.
He slept on an air mattress in a place Taylor shared with three other team employees. Connor still calls San Francisco general manager John Lynch “Mr. Lynch.”
He was that committed to making it as a coach, a goal he’d set years ago while tagging along with his father to work. The two would watch tape together, Jon testing his younger son on pass coverages and correcting him whenever he was wrong.
Just a year ago, Connor was coaching high school football in Colorado and doing landscaping on the side, still awaiting his chance.
It finally arrived this season with the Chiefs, and now the story has blown up into one of the most unlikely coaching matchups in NFL history.
Father against son. Brother against brother.
“I’m not sure what the odds are of this happening, but I’m sure Vegas wouldn’t even have come up with it,” Jon said. “It’s a proud occasion for me as a father and certainly a special opportunity for our family.”
It’s Super Bowl LIV and Embree Bowl I.