When I agreed to come of “retirement” to write about the Niners being in the Super Bowl, I obviously wasn’t envisioning this: a devastating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs made even more upsetting due to the fact that it really seemed like the 49ers were going to win the game. Well, until the final six minutes that is when we were suddenly being outplayed by the Chiefs in every aspect, failing to protect a 20-10 lead and allowing them to put up 21 unanswered points.
As the confetti fell onto the field and the Chiefs celebrated their first Super Bowl win in 50 years while the 49ers dejectedly made their way back to the locker room, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I turned off my phone and I turned off the television. I couldn’t face the barrage of sympathetic messages that were certain to come flooding in and I definitely couldn’t watch Roger Goodell hand over that gleaming Lombardi Trophy to Andy Reid. But unlike when the 49ers lost the Super Bowl to Baltimore, I didn’t cry. Maybe because I had six and a half minutes to process what was happening versus the “excitement” of it coming down to five yards in New Orleans. Maybe because I was sitting at home alone on my couch (personal choice), versus sitting in the stands of the Superdome. Or maybe because as much as I love the 49ers, I have started to learn that the odds of them ultimately breaking my heart are much higher than those of them bringing home a NFL Championship.
It’s not their fault, obviously. That’s just how statistics work. But one can only take so much heartbreak before she stops being as open to the possibility of it yet again.
I’ll be honest. Coming into this season after only winning four games last year, I did not think the Niners would get to the playoffs. I knew we’d made some great moves in the offseason and I was happy with the direction GM John Lynch and Coach Kyle Shanahan were taking to rebuild the team. But I had us going, maybe, 8-8. Then, we started to win games. And not only were we winning, we looked good. We looked confident. And best of all, we looked like we were having a whole lot of fun.
But, much to the frustration of my friends who are also Niners fans, I refused to fully believe. Yes, we beat the Bucs, the Bengals, the Steelers, the Browns, the Rams, the Redskins, the Panthers, and the Cardinals to be the only undefeated team in the NFL in Week 9, “BUT,” I’d say, “How good are any of those teams really?”
Here’s the truth though: It wasn’t that I didn’t believe; it was that I didn’t want to let myself believe. Because the more excited I got about the prospect of the 49ers going to the playoffs and maybe even the Super Bowl, the more I knew that I was setting myself up to experience soul-crushing agony. And with every playoff win, it would only get worse. After all, the higher you go, the harder you fall. (And, yes, I’ll just say what you’re all thinking: This is 100% why I’m still single. It’s all super healthy and I can only think that it’s fate that I have my first therapy appointment in five years scheduled for this afternoon.)
But at some point, even I couldn’t keep myself from believing in what I was seeing from this team. Our incredible defense, our ground game, the creative coaching, the tight ends, and a QB who was able to do what was necessary to make sure we were in the position to get win after win. Fifteen in all. The same amount as the Kansas City Chiefs, in fact, but still one win short of being the Super Bowl Champions.
¿Tú tipster te mandó 49ers?— Carlos Escalona (tipster) ⚪️ (@carlos_apuesta) February 3, 2020
Pues te garantizó que hizo un gran análisis y encontró las tendencias para confiar en ellos. No se dió, ni hablar. Tu tipster no es es peor ni mejor por un pick.
Ahora aún meme que me dió mucha risa. pic.twitter.com/zhNNdW3vsS
And so… though I may not have cried, this loss hurts. A lot. Because as any fan of this current team would agree, there’s something really special about this current group of guys. Not only are they talented, they’re utterly unselfish. They do whatever has to be done to get the first down or stop the other team from driving downfield and they have fun while they’re doing it. We all saw Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu yelling at his teammates on the sideline after the Niners made the most of Mahomes’ first interception and scored a touchdown. Mathieu later said that obviously that scolding worked and the guys “responded,” and maybe that’s true. But I’m glad this Niners squad doesn’t scream at each other. Because true champions don’t just win the game, they do so while respecting others and loving what they do.
Of course, ultimately, the character of this Niners team doesn’t matter, at least when it comes to winning the biggest game of the year. If you’re a fan, you’ve already read and dissected all of the reasons why we lost. For me, it comes down to two things: At times, Shanahan coached not to lose whereas Andy Reid (going for it twice on fourth down) was playing to win, and Jimmy G just couldn’t make it happen when he needed to.
We’ll debate Shanahan’s decision not to try to go downfield at the end of the second quarter with the score tied at 10, 1:45 remaining on the clock, and three timeouts for weeks. In the moment, I was frustrated. Why not try to get more points and go into the half being up? (His reasoning was that the Chiefs also had three timeouts and he didn’t want Mahomes to get the ball back, but again: that’s playing scared, which doesn’t win Super Bowls.) Sure, we almost got three points save for the sketchy OPI call on Kittle, but I’m not here to blame the refs (even though their calls ultimately benefited the Chiefs) because, in my opinion, the entire drive should have gone down (the field) differently.
We’ll also wonder why in the third quarter, Shanahan decided to kick a 42-yard field goal on fourth-and-two. Did he forget about our running game? If we got a touchdown there, that would have changed the entire game. Alas… “what ifs” accomplish nothing, but it’s hard not to be frustrated that he didn’t take a page from Andy Reid’s playbook in that moment.
We’re also, annoyingly, going to go into this offseason with a lot of chatter about Jimmy Garoppolo who, unfortunately, did not play as well as any of us would have liked in the fourth quarter. He failed to see open receivers and when he did, he failed to get them the ball. Is that what cost us the game? Who knows. It’s all minutiae. In a game that was as close as this one was (despite what the final score reflects), the Niners didn’t do much wrong. Unfortunately, they did just enough wrong to lose.
And so, today, Niners fans don’t get to celebrate winning the Super Bowl. There will be no parade. The #QuestForSix continues.
What we do get to celebrate is that, despite what some are saying, I think this team is set up to be just as good next year as we were this year. Yes, we are going to lose some key players to free agency (and possibly Joe Staley to retirement, which would be devastating for us and him). And, yes, for the first time in a long time, we’re not going to have an amazing draft (we pick 31st in the first round and then don’t have another pick until the 5th round). But, I think the 49ers organization is ready to do whatever it has to do to keep our best guys (though the salary cap will be a challenge).
Will we go to the Super Bowl next year? You know as well as I do that the chances of that happening are slim. Football is a game of inches. No one experienced that more than we did this season. To have everything go our way two years in a row would take skill, leadership, confidence, generosity, camaraderie, and willpower. But it would also take a little magic.
Do I believe they can do it? Like this season, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic in an attempt to keep my heart from being shattered into a million pieces. But also like this season, and every season before it, no matter how much I do to keep the 49ers from breaking my heart, the point is: they have my heart no matter what. It was an amazing season. One we’ll be talking about for years to come. I’m obviously upset about the outcome, but the journey was thrilling, and for that, I’m forever thankful. Faithful then, faithful now. Faithful forever.
Follow Daisy Barringer @daisy on Twitter.