The Day After a Super Bowl Loss
I feel a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. I took a sucker punch to the gut and the fist came out the other side. I mourn for the 2012 San Francisco 49ers like I would a loyal dog freshly buried. It hurts – not an active sharpness – but merely a ceiling on my happiness. My nostalgia longs for the hope that I held just 48-hours ago.
I have longed for a major championship from one of my teams – my 49ers, my Reds, and especially my Hokies – since San Francisco last took home the championship in the winter of 1995. They constantly build up your hope. The Hokie football team starts 6-0 only for it to fall apart in November. The Reds finally build a contender after a 15-year playoff drought but drop three straight deciding games to the eventual champions in the NLDS. The 49ers make it to the Super Bowl for the first time since I attended elementary school only to lose by a goal line stand. The hopes always come crashing to earth.
I suppose I should count myself lucky. The Reds and 49ers have both won championships within my memory. The Hokies have failed to win ten games in a season only twice since my freshman year and even managed to win the Orange Bowl. Since I took up soccer in 2009, my local team, the Richmond Kickers, have won a championship and my EPL team, Liverpool FC, won a lesser cup last spring. I do not intend to whine, but every sports fan wants the ultimate prize. We want to bask in the glory of a world championship. We invest so much faith into our sports teams, we surrender so much power to something we cannot control, that we feel our teams’ disappointment with every setback.
I never once lost faith in the 49ers last night. Perhaps I was simply in denial. Down fifteen at halftime, I looked up the greatest Super Bowl comeback. I balked when I realized it was only ten points, but I did not give up. When we went down by 22 in the third, I simply recalled the 17-point deficit the team had overcome in the NFC championship game. When the lights went out at the Superdome, I called it a sign from God and prophesied a comeback on Facebook.
The 49ers almost proved me right. With the power outage stunting Baltimore’s emotional advantage, San Francisco stormed back with superior talent on a 23-6 run through the second half. In the sight of adversity, my faith strengthened even more. Not only could we win, but winning became our destiny. It was fated. Down five with under three minutes left at the Baltimore 5-yard line, victory seemed clinical. The offense would simply run down the clock and march the ball into the end zone. Baltimore would try an unfortunate Hail Mary. My team would stand in the center of the field as champions.
It didn’t happen that way. I believe the referees missed the pass interference call on the fourth down play, but I do not believe that is the main reason we lost. I want to second the guess the playcalling in the goal line series. I wonder if Kap would have had more success running the ball himself. Our offensive line, arguably the best in football, got us there. I prefer to rely on them in that situation. However, I recall we have one of the best coaches in football. I do not presume to question Coach Harbaugh.
I want to blame the first half defense. We have so many all-pros but they did not play their best football against that high-powered Flacco aerial attack. The special teams likely deserves some blame too.
Ultimately though, we lost because Baltimore wanted it more. They had more heart on this day. They came out spewing fire. The power outage stunted that momentum, but they found their drive again when they needed it most on that final goal line stand. Their veterans burned for victory.
Despite the ache, hope springs eternal. I know we will return to this stage, and soon. These 2012 San Francisco 49ers remind me a lot of the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers. That team also rode a superior, linebacker-driven defense and a tough, talented second-year quarterback into the Super Bowl. The 2006 Steelers had the referee assistance and the emotional edge of the Jerome Bettis retirement that the 2012 49ers lacked. Of interest to 49ers fans is what happened three years later. The Steelers returned to the Super Bowl and a fully matured Ben Roethlisberger led the game winning drive to help them capture their second championship of the decade. While I certainly hope Colin Kaepernick avoids Roethlisberger’s off-field incidents, I truly believe he can become the faster, smarter version of the Steelers’ QB.
In addition to Kap, we still have Jim Harbaugh, one of the top five coaches in the NFL. The bulk of our road grading offensive line is still under thirty. Our all-pro laden defense is similarly young with only Justin Smith of worry. This team remains built to win for the next five years.
Fellow Niners fans, use this loss as fuel. Add it to the 2-14 season and the eight straight non-winning seasons. Add it to the muffed punts of January 2012. When we finally achieve the Quest for Six, it will taste that much sweeter.