LAS VEGAS — The scene plays out often in the hallways of the San Francisco 49ers’ SAP Performance Facility.
As they pass, they ignore each other.
This isn’t a case of an arrogant Mr. Irrelevant-to-MVP-finalist quarterback overlooking a teammate who in two years has played 12 offensive snaps and 39 on special teams.
No, this is a case of two unlikely NFL roommates skipping social norms and pleasantries.
“They have to get away from each other at some point,” third-string quarterback Brandon Allen told Yahoo Sports. “I think that’s just their way of getting away from each other, [like] ‘We’re at work. I don’t know you. Let’s keep going. I’ll see you at home.’”
As the 49ers march toward this weekend’s Super Bowl with Purdy at the helm, his shared accommodations with Zakelj have spurred plenty of team lore the past two seasons. Teammates describe Purdy and Zakelj as “inseparable” rookies turned “long-lost brothers.” Purdy’s promotion from the guy drafted a round after Zakelj to starter at the most impactful position in sports has not stunted his close friendship with Zakelj, who’s currently on injured reserve.
Purdy and Zakelj are still housemates, at least until the quarterback’s March wedding in which Zakelj will be a groomsman.
And while Zakelj views their housing as “two mid-20s guys hanging out [who] also just happen to play football,” teammates get a kick out of the players who are quick to create the kick themselves.
Yahoo Sports spoke with 10 members of the 49ers as well as a longtime friend of Purdy and Zakelj to learn more about the accommodations that balk the expectations of NFL quarterback residences. What emerged was a portrait of Purdy with deeper texture than his public persona often presents – a portrait of Purdy that is indeed as steady and level-headed as he projects, but also makes room for laughter and shenanigans.
“Like two peas in a pod,” left guard Aaron Banks said. “They bicker like roommates would but they’re a fun duo.”
From drives to jabs, Purdy and Zakelj ‘hit it off’ and didn’t look back
At the 49ers facility in spring 2022, two rookies who risked missing the 53-man roster sat at a lunch table filling out paperwork. Eager for any sense of familiarity in a foreign environment, they found a connection: One of Zakelj’s pee wee-through-high school football teammates in 14,000-person Brecksville, Ohio, played at Iowa State with Purdy. And Mike Rose wasn’t just a linebacker on Purdy’s Cyclones team — Rose and Purdy also lived together for three years.
“So it was kind of like ‘Oh, hey, you know Mike?’ and we were able to hit it off with that,” Zakelj said. “Started hanging out more and more.”
Weekend trips to San Francisco and the beach compounded during OTAs, Bay Area budgeting also on the rookies’ minds. So they found a place shortly before the season along with 49ers rookie offensive lineman Alfredo Gutierrez. Before the 2023 season, after Purdy’s career had taken off but a UCL tear in the NFC championship still left some doubt, Purdy and Zakelj moved together into a house that’s roughly 20 minutes from the team facility, Zakelj said. Rose laughs at how his connection unintentionally created this domino effect.
“I was like, ‘Damn, you stole my roommate,’” Rose told Yahoo Sports by phone Wednesday. “No, I’m playing. I think it’s really cool. I think it’s ironic that a now-MVP candidate, Super Bowl quarterback has, for the past five [of] six years, lived with a small-town Brecksville, Ohio, kid.”
Purdy and Zakelj, meanwhile, haven’t migrated far from their initial paperwork-filled cafeteria table. Instead, 18 months later, the two sometimes carpool to work together and always eat breakfast in the same corner that’s become tradition for Niners quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Purdy and Zakelj will recap movies they’ve watched — “L.A. Confidential,” “Sicario” and “The Holdovers” lately — and exchange playful jabs that only roommates can.
“Brock will talk about how Nick doesn't come out of his room unless he smells food,” Allen said. “He'll stay in his room, lock the door, laying in bed. And then he smells food [and] all of a sudden pops up out of nowhere. It's usually when Brock's fiancée might be cooking something.
“Nick will just show up and be like, ‘You guys made me some, right?’”
Teammates aren’t safe from jabs at breakfast either, quarterback Sam Darnold said. Purdy and Zakelj team up.
“It’s like they usually pick one guy to make fun of that day,” Darnold told Yahoo Sports. “A lot of times it’s me, but [right guard Jon] Feliciano gets the brunt of it, too.
“They just make fun of people for the most random things.”
Purdy-Zakelj household often in laughter
Rose laughed when Purdy and Zakelj rooming together made headlines this season.
Yes, it’s unusual for an NFL starting quarterback to live with a teammate. But Purdy and Zakelj’s current house veers from the shared-bedroom apartment some might have imagined.
“The whole media thing was just funny because they’re like ‘Brock Purdy has a roommate,’ acting like he’s slumming it out,” Rose said. “And I’m like ‘Dude, this house is beautiful.’ … They’ve got their own space, for sure. They’re not on top of each other.
“I don’t want to put all their business out there, but it’s not what people are making it out to be.”
Zakelj said “last year it was a slightly different situation” when they lived with a third teammate in a different place, though he, too, declined to detail further. Because to both Purdy and Zakelj, their house is less about luxury and more about space for friends and family to visit. Purdy’s fiancee, Jenna, and Zakelj’s girlfriend, May, are often in town. (Jenna also reminds them from afar to take out the trash Mondays, when in-season travel and trash day inconveniently overlap.) Their friends and family come through, too, for games of Qwirkle, solitaire and Settlers of Catan at the Purdy-Zakelj household.
Steaks and burgers are grilled, competitive cornhole games are played, and Purdy’s impersonations are not an uncommon source of entertainment.
Because the quarterback skilled at diagnosing defenses is also adept at diagnosing personal flair and impersonating voices and non-human sounds alike. Teammates say Purdy can imitate with striking accuracy the voices of his coaches, teammates and support staff. They’ve heard him shift to Family Guy voices and White Goodman from the movie, “Dodgeball”; to SpongeBob and even the sound of a police siren that sends Zakelj and Rose into fits of laughter.
“I'll do it sometimes when we're in the huddle or something to sort of just show them that Brock’s calm, he's cool and collected here,” Purdy said, speaking in third person. “He's joking around, so it's all good.”
That balance is one Purdy strikes intentionally, in the building and at home. Sometimes at the facility he’ll joke and impersonate those around him; other times he’ll lock in to metabolize an offense or deconstruct a defense. Sometimes at home Purdy picks Zakelj’s brain about the run play to which he’d audible; other times they’re decorating a Christmas tree and then joking about sending the team a Christmas card from them, and before long, there’s one in everybody’s locker.
“It’s been fun,” Purdy said. “He’s become one of my best friends."
Adds Zakelj: “It’s just kind of two mid-20s guys, like, hanging out. We also just happen to play football.”