My sister-in-law’s fiance, Evan, grew up in New England. He’s your standard Boston sports fan — if he ever testifies at a trial, it would make more sense to have him place his hand on Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball while swearing under oath than a Bible.
On Sunday afternoon, Evan posted this on Facebook:
“Can’t figure out what’s worse, Patriots loss or the upcoming two weeks of “Har-bowl” references.”
That started a little friendly trash talking, where I might have mentioned how glad I was that we wouldn’t be inundated with stories about Tom Brady going for ring No. 4 against his childhood team. That comment garnered no response, and I may not be welcome in Evan’s home for the next year or so.
My wife wondered why her future brother-in-law would be so upset. “His team made it to the Super Bowl last year. What’s the big deal?”
To rational people, her statement makes a lot of sense. However, sports fans threw words like “rationality” and “perspective” out the window decades ago when they started painting their bodies in their favorite team’s colors. Losing a Super Bowl is arguably worse than losing a conference title game or not making the playoffs at all, for fans and participants alike.
People feel sorry for the early-90s Buffalo Bills, even though they were the class of the AFC. Look at how Tim Brown decided to call out Bill Callahan for supposedly sabotaging the Oakland Raiders by drastically altering the team’s gameplan two days before Super Bowl XXXVII against Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jerry Rice agreed with Brown. Neither receiver has forgotten, and they never will. Knowing Rice, that Super Bowl loss is a blemish on his otherwise perfect resume that he thinks about multiple times each day.
Teams don’t get over losses in the Super Bowl. If you asked a 49ers fan their biggest fear (other than the return of Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye), he or she very well may respond with “a Super Bowl loss.” Well, a loss in the Super Bowl to the Raiders would probably be the answer if we got really specific, because Raiders fans wouldn’t let it go until the end of time. But any loss in the Super Bowl would be tragic.
There is no way one can logically explain to a non-NFL fan that maintaining a perfect franchise record in Super Bowls means anything. Jerry Seinfeld famously said we’re all rooting for laundry, and this might be the most blatant example. What do Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the rest have to do with Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Andy Lee?
Nothing. Unless you grew up in the Eddie Debartolo era and believe that franchise supremacy is the overarching goal. The Type-A personality in every 49ers fan clings to that perfect Super Bowl record like a life preserver whenever team finishes with a losing record or drafts a USC guy anytime in the last five years.
It drove many longtime 49ers fans crazy when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, even though the Green Bay Packers have won 13 NFL titles (But only four Super Bowls!). The one saving grace: the Steelers lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys. On Sunday the 49ers reached the final stage of their climb back to the top of the football world, which is both great and frightening at the same time. If San Francisco wins, they lay claim to being the only franchise with a 6-0 record in Super Bowls. If they lose, the air of invincibility is gone.
The 49ers have had their fair share of playoff losses, including two NFC Championship Game defeats at the hands of the Giants which signify the most painful losses since the franchise rose to power in the early 1980s (although longtime fans might argue that the 24-21 NFC Title Game loss in Washington hurt quite a bit in January of 1984). Yet there has always been this underlying feeling that once the San Francisco 49ers make it to the biggest stage, they always come through. Always. The commonly used hashtag might read #QuestforSix, but the underlying meaning is “Quest for 6-0.” No pressure, Jim Harbaugh. No pressure, Colin Kaepernick. No pressure, 49ers defensive backs. All we ask for is perfection.