The 49ers haven’t played a snap in what feels like forever. They defended the victory formation on their last football series, an act that sealed their fate in Super Bowl LIV. There was nothing left to do at that point, no way to remedy a blown fourth-quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers stood on the NFL’s highest peak and fell off the cliff without a cushion below. The loss hurt in ways words can’t describe, an emotion only expressed by the phenomenal shot from NBC Sports Bay Area’s JC Garcia of Nick Bosa sobbing on the sideline.
Wanna know how that loss felt? Like this:
Getting over that takes time, but it’s a wound that will fester if you let it. It can weigh on one that can infect the present and future in unfun ways.
That’s why we’ve seen so few teams return to the Super Bowl after being bested there the year before. Getting back there requires four things, three of them super obvious. You need talent, health and work ethic.
The fourth element: Proper perspective.
Kyle Shanahan has that in spades, and the 49ers are far better for it. It’s so clear in his answer to yet another Super Bowl hangover question, this one coming from Monday’s meeting with the media. Being dismissive is the easiest play here. It also reeks of insecurity.
That’s not how Shanahan’s made. He’s super confident without being cocky, fully willing to address massive disappointment without emotion it originally invoked.
He can do that because he has processed it, mourned it and moved on. His answer was matter of fact, with no residual emotion and provides a roadmap for how the 49ers can get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
“You need to recover, you need to get away, but then you need to go back to work,” Shanahan said. “You’ve also got to understand that in this league, you only get better or you get worse and it is very hard to get better when you think you were that good. You better be extremely humble. You had better recognize that and you better be willing to put in the pain and sacrifice that it goes through to get to that moment.
“I always say that in order to get to heaven you’ve got to go through hell, and I feel like that's what you do. Sometimes, that's not fun. That's why if you want to get to that moment again, you better get away and relax because you know how hard it is. So, when it's time to come, you're ready to pay your dues and go through that grind. If you do, that gives you a chance at the end of the year to be the only happy team in the league.”
Such a perspective is often formed by experience. While Super Bowl LIV’s result stung, let’s not forget that Shanahan already has been through 28-3.
Losing that Super Bowl LI lead while he was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator could be all-consuming, with constant reminders from the outside to keep it from fading away. While he shouldered significant blame for the Patriots' comeback in Super Bowl LI, that disappointment proved to be a glancing blow.
It’s probably tough for Shanahan to find a free drink in Atlanta, but the schematic mastermind has moved on well. He and general manager John Lynch built the 49ers into a juggernaut from the ground up, opening a championship window and the real possibility for sustained success.
Another shot at a title isn’t given. It has to be earned over 17 weeks in a cut-throat league where weaknesses are exposed and exploited. Living in the past, or trying too hard to avenge it, is a recipe for failure. Shanahan clearly knows that and has set a proper tone for a legitimate shot at redemption. That’s why Jed York just handed him a contract extension. He’s undoubtedly the right man for this job.
“We’ve got to work pretty dang hard to be better than we were,” Shanahan said. “If we're not, then it's going to show. So that's what our guys are kind of focused on that. How much better can we be? We’ve got to find that in order to get to that spot. We also know we've got to find that just to get to the playoffs. I don't think guys think about much of the year before.
"I know that it makes people who have never felt that experience, never played in that game and stuff know how special it is and how hard it is to get there, how cool it is to get there and how tough it is when you lose. I do think that makes people very hungry to get back to something that they experienced, but besides that, I don't think it affects anything really.”