They had gotten as far south as Santa Barbara on the return drive home when Mirer's cellular phone rang. The voice on the other end belonged to Niners coach Steve Mariucci. "How about a U-turn and come back up here?" Mariucci asked.
Talk about good timing. "So they made a U-turn, turned around and moved back up here," Mariucci said Wednesday after the Niners re-signed Mirer, the team's backup quarterback last year who was released on Sept. 4 in a move dictated by the team's salary cap problems. But with starter Jeff Garcia hobbling with a sprained ligament in his right knee, the Niners now have a potential problem at quarterback. So the team called on Mirer, whom 49ers coaches have been in contact with all season.
"I was trying to be patient," said Mirer, a ninth-year veteran who had played with five teams in five years before finding a home in San Francisco last year. "I hadn't really decided what I wanted if the phone hadn't rung. I wasn't real interested in changing offenses again and relocating totally and put the family through that stuff again. I've done a lot of that."
To fit Mirer and his veteran's minimum salary into the team's cramped cap structure, the Niners released second-year defensive end John Milem and rookie linebacker Shane Elam from the 53-man roster and offensive tackle Mark Bristol from the practice squad.
Milem becomes the first player from the team's outstanding 11-player draft class of 2000 to part ways with the team. Mirer had remained in shape, figuring the Niners might come calling, particularly since they have played with only two quarterbacks - Garcia and backup Tim Rattay - since Oct. 3. But just the same, as the season closed in on November, he began making plans to move on in case that call never came. Such as collecting a few of his things in the Bay Area.
"I never felt this was an impossibility," Mirer said. "In a 16-game season, you hope at some point you fit in. Some days it seemed like such a long time since I'd been here. Now that I'm back, it seems like it was two days ago."
Garcia was held out of practice Wednesday, but he is expected to return to drills on Thursday. Mariucci said Wednesday that Rattay remains the team's No. 2 quarterback and, while it is the Niners' intention to keep Mirer on the roster the remainder of the season, there are no guarantees. "He understands that and he's happy to be back," Mariucci said. "And we're glad to have him back."