2 Tremendous Bowl rings, zero snapshots: 49ers Tyler Gaffney lastly desires to make the NFL dream come true

Tyler Gaffney is an elite athlete and very lucky.

The former two-sport Stanford star, drafted by MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates and NFL’s Carolina Panthers, was inducted into the 49ers practice group last week. This is the last step on a unique athletic journey.

It doesn’t include regular season NFL snaps, a minor league baseball season, two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, and three knee surgeries.

This is a bizarre resume. Unsurprisingly, 29-year-old Gaffney couldn’t imagine going that route when he was in Palo Alto.

“Life is a fun thing,” said Gaffney. “And it doesn’t always work the way you make it work.”

It’s a funny thing that Gaffney is back in the NFL.

He quietly retired in 2017 as he rehabilitated from his third knee operation, but returned last week after trying Houston and Washington because he wanted to play in a regular season game.

Of course, Gaffney wants to play more than just a snapshot. But that would be a start. And it would be a triumph.

“Unfinished deals were kind of the motto,” said Gaffney. “You don’t dream of almost getting there.”

On January 1, 2014, Gaffney ended his senior season with 21 touchdowns to 1,709 yards, completing 91 yards and one touchdown in Stanford’s Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.

Three months later, he was inducted into the sixth round of the NFL draft by the Panthers after completing the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds on the combine at 220 pounds.

However, Gaffney’s painful path was predicted almost immediately. During his first training camp exercise with the Panthers, he tore the side meniscus in his right knee. A consolation prize: he was released from the waiver by the Patriots and received a Super Bowl ring for the injured reserve.

However, in 2015, at the start of the Patriots’ training camp, he suffered the same injury to his left knee.

In 2016, his only healthy season in the NFL, he spent time on the training team and active New England squad, but was never active for a game in a season that ended with another Super Bowl ring.

Finally, in 2017, playing for the Jaguars in a preseason game against the Patriots, he suffered his third non-contact lateral meniscus tear at the end of the season in three years.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said Gaffney. “I was in a wheelchair at Disneyland with my son on my lap and I was like, ‘What should I do? ‘The emotional part got the best out of me. “

It helped that Gaffney was the rare NFL player to try his hand at any other professional sport.

In 2018, the outfielder, selected by the Pirates in the 24th round in 2012, returned to baseball. Splitting the season between Pittsburgh’s Double-A team in Altoona, Pennsylvania and his high-Class A partner in Bradenton, Florida, hit with six homers and 36 RBIs, despite a six-year layoff, with six homers and 36 RBIs .244.

Gaffney, who is married to two sons, Jaxon, 4 and Conway, 2, was 27 years old at the time and took other factors into account beyond his athletic career.

“I had to think, ‘If I got a big league salary and did the same, would I be happy?'” Said Gaffney. “And I thought the answer was’ No. ‘

“There are 140 games in 160 days. You’re never home because even at home you’re in the stadium by 11am … I decided that wasn’t the best move for my family. So I ended the year and decided, ‘See you later.’ “

But Gaffney, a self-described fitness freak, couldn’t give up the sport.

He played briefly for the San Diego Legion, a major league rugby team, participated in Spartan races and CrossFit, and often coached with current or former NFL players in Southern California.

He served as a broad receiver for a group of quarterbacks that included Kevin Hogan, who played at Stanford and was looking for NFL employment.

“They were sending their film to NFL teams and some coaches who were watching their film saw a recipient – it was me – and said, ‘Who is this?'” Gaffney said. “Long story short, I’ve had a couple of attempts this year. And here we are. “

Gaffney is now in Glendale, Arizona, where the 49ers will end their season against the Seahawks on Sunday. However, he doesn’t know if his late-season signing is the start of something or maybe his last stop in professional sport.

When that is the end, the Stanford double major (psychology, sociology) has options. Gaffney has worked in commercial and residential real estate and is a co-founder of Avantera Health, which sells nutritional supplements and promotes healthy lifestyles.

Now, however, Gaffney is focused on football and hopes to end a career that doesn’t involve snap shots with no regrets.

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: ebranch@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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