Anyone who’s played football with any degree of even moderate success knows that the days after the end of the season are tough. Losing a championship game is brutal, but really it’s just the beginning of a long offseason. Save all the positive and constructive language you want for next year. Losing hurts.
The first week is pretty numbing. It’s a perfect storm of confusion, disbelief, change in routine, and being completely drained of energy. Countless plays run on a loop inside your head, or perhaps just a select few that could have altered the outcome of the game. You think back to the start of the playoffs, the start of the regular season, and training camp even. Everything the 49ers talked about and worked on this year took them to the Super Bowl, so how did it come up short in the end? Making the Super Bowl is clearly very respectable, but nobody remembers the runner-up in any sport, which is why the 49ers have the worst off season to deal with in the NFL.
The most awkward part of losing a championship game is finding enough distractions to help you move forward. For perspective, that’s basically asking a football player to avoid everyone he knows and everywhere he normally goes on a daily basis with for seven months. Don’t go to the facility, don’t go to the gym, don’t answer the phone, don’t go outside.
Some guys will watch the game obsessively over and over, trying to isolate the precious few moments that will make ALL the difference next time. A missed tackle in the first quarter, an offside in the second, and the blown lane assignment on the second-half kickoff return. Other players will never watch the game. They know how close they were, and the pain is so blunt there’s no need to pour anything on it. Personally I’d rather get blown out by five touchdowns than lose by three points. I’d rather deal with shell shock and have no clue what happened than be 99% correct and still lose. Don’t slip through my fingers, fly way over my head.
Winning is the only way to finish a year. The Ravens? Forget Gatorade and protein shakes, it’s time for champagne and cake. The cruelty of football is that even when a team is winning games during the season, those wins are celebrated for one day…maybe. After that day of revelry it’s back to the grind and prepping for the next opponent. Anyone who spends too much time celebrating a Week 6 win pays for it in Week 7. Win or lose, nobody has more time in their schedule in the NFL.
But after the Super Bowl, how much time you do you have? Six months. Not only are you now the champions, you get to be the champions until training camps kick off in late July or early August. That’s a long time to soak it in, to appreciate the many long practice days, all the games and their chaotic nature of adjustments, breakdowns, re-adjustments, tense moments, and winning plays. Winning a Super Bowl must feel like celebrating all your accumulated birthdays everyday for Six months.
You’re a champion when you eat breakfast, when you go for a dip in your pool, when you go to the mall and run into a friend you haven’t seen in a while. You’re even a champion if you want to lay on the coach all day and watch mind-rotting television. But you probably won’t, because there’s nothing a champion loves more than watching the game that made them so great. Over and over and over and over and over. After all, there’s nothing a champion wants more than to win another championship. Save the recipe, next year we’re having two cakes on my birthday because this one tastes so good. What does a champion do when they have all the time in the world? Whatever a champion’s heart desires.
I never won a final championship playing football. I’ve won conference championships in high school and college. I was fortunate to return after my playing days and coach with my high school coach as an offensive coordinator and guide the team to a provincial championship. As a coach, it was a pretty unique experience. We had a big group of kids from all varieties and walks of life led by great coaches. As a staff we realized early in the year we had the potential to win a lot of games, and told the players. We also told them to expect nothing unless they improved every week, outworked the competition regardless of our talent level, and most importantly, didn’t let winning during the regular season build us into a lazy playoff team.
To make a long season short the kids bought into the plan and we rode a couple of studs a long way while a healthy rotation of role players stepped up and filled in the rest. We met a few teams who had just as much talent as we did, but we outworked them. We ran a simple power run game with a healthy dose of play action as our base, and then would throw in an empty spread set to change things up with no huddle once in a while. Simple offense, great execution, tough defense, and a refusal to quit. Those were the keys to our success. And great coaching.
Credit the 49ers for refusing to fold when the game looked like it was running from them early in the third quarter. Say what you want about the power outage, but it happened to both teams, and San Fran regrouped to nearly charge back and steal the game. The Ravens, on the other hand, proved they were the real deal and thus are now the Super Bowl Champions until the 2013 season kicks off. Somewhere between the elated victory and the soul crushing defeat lies the love of football that wakes up boys and men alike and fuels their dreams of winning it all. I’ve won, I’ve lost, I’ve played, I’ve coached, and I’d give up everything to do it all again.
I can also guarantee I’d win it all next time. I’ve learned my lessons, now I just need one more chance. So do the San Francisco 49ers, unless the Ravens have something to do with it again. The taste of winning never gets old, only the players do.
Luke Purm is a freelance writer and former college football player (a wide receiver at Simon Fraser University) with an inside look at the sights and sounds from the huddle, down the field, through the air, in the endzone, under the pile, out of the locker room, on the scoreboard, and everywhere else football sweats, smells, yells, breathes and collides with life. Follow him on Twitter.