Kurtenbach at the Super Bowl: ‘Nobody remembers the loser’
MIAMI — The truth is harsh, but 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead dished it during Super Bowl week.
“Legends are only made if they win the game,” he said. “Nobody remembers the loser.”
Indeed, there is so much more on the line than a trophy Sunday. Right or wrong, one big game — the biggest game — holds outsized importance in both current and future narratives.
For instance: Joe Montana is considered by some to be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Maybe he is. After all, he went to the Super Bowl with the 49ers four times and came away with four rings.
But Montana also had only one season in which he threw 30 or more touchdown passes, only three seasons in which he made All-Pro. We don’t talk about that, do we?
No, because he has those rings and won three Super Bowl MVPs, to boot.
Legacies are defined when everything is on the line, in the biggest moments.
It doesn’t get much bigger than Sunday.
If there has been a defining narrative on the Kansas City side this week in Miami, it has been “Win it for Andy,” as in Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
The near-universally beloved coach probably deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as it is, but with a win Sunday — his first Super Bowl victory — he’d cement his spot in Canton. Reid has been an elite coach in the NFL for 21 years, winning 221 games, but one game in South Florida can validate all of it.
For Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — only 24 years old — a Super Bowl victory would establish him as one of the great quarterbacks in the history of the game. Yes, he has been that good in his first two years as a starter.
The Chiefs organization is seeking validation through a trophy too. Kansas City played in the first Super Bowl (lost) and the fourth Super Bowl (won) and then went 50 years, til now, without reaching one.
Of course, the 49ers’ goal is for Reid, Mahomes, and all of Kansas City to go wanting.
And, make no mistake, they desperately want the validation, the reconciliation, the bragging rights, that a Super Bowl victory provides.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has already separated himself as one of the NFL’s truly elite coaches this season, but a win Sunday would stop the questions about his last trip to the Super Bowl.
You know how Armstead said that no one ever remembers the Super Bowl loser?
Well, Shanahan is the exception to that rule.
He was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl three years ago. the Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3 in the fourth quarter. They were absolutely dominating, ready to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl. A couple of stalled drives, a turnover, and a miracle Tom Brady finish resulted in defeat. Shanahan, for reasons that remain beyond me, has been saddled with the responsibility for the 34-28 loss — apparently defenses can’t be asked to hold a 25-point fourth-quarter lead — and has been peppered with questions about it since the 49ers’ clinched a spot in this Super Bowl.
“I don’t think there’s anything to run away from. I was very proud of that year, I was proud of our team,” Shanahan said. “I’m very disappointed about losing a 28-3 game. But I think I can deal with that, and knowing that has made me a little stronger. You don’t always know what you can deal with.
“I go back and harp on myself on everything. You realize how playing against good teams, good quarterbacks, that you can never relax.”
Shanahan tries to crack jokes about 28-3 — a scoreline reference that everyone in football implicitly understands — but he admitted that he still has some scars from the loss. For instance: He was on high alert for 25-point leads when the 49ers were blowing out their opponents in the NFC playoffs. (That would be a great problem for him to have Sunday.)
And while it’s his competitive drive and love of football that fuels Shanahan to be the most prepared and innovative offensive mind in the league, I have it on good authority that overwriting his 28-3 legacy adds to that fire. It’s a chip on the shoulder he wants to remove Sunday.
For 49ers’ cornerback Richard Sherman, a man who collects shoulder chips and lives for slights and proving people wrong, a win Sunday would provide him the ultimate opportunity to clap back. Sherman signed with the 49ers to inflict serious pain on his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, who cut the future Hall of Famer after he ruptured an Achilles’ tendon.
It was thought to be a career-ending injury. Even if he played again, Sherman would never be the same, the Seahawks surmised.
Sherman didn’t agree with that assessment. So he came to the Bay Area, negotiating his own incentive-laden contract with Seattle’s arch-rival, and has returned to All-Pro form and, now, the Super Bowl.
A win Sunday would be the ultimate last laugh to his many haters and naysayers (some who are made up). Though, truth be told, he’ll be sure to find more, even in celebration.
I can hear it now: “Oh, you think I can’t do it again?”
For 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is receiving more praise for his looks than his play here in Miami, a win Sunday would mean that the NFL would have to acknowledge him for what he is — a winner. Like Montana or Brady, Garoppolo doesn’t wow with his physical skill sets (save for the jawline), except when his team needs him to play best. In his first full season as a starter, he has developed a reputation as a big-game player. He can confirm it against the Chiefs.
For offensive tackle Joe Staley — the longest-tenured 49er at 13 seasons — a win would cap an outstanding career that will certainly culminate with his number being retired by the franchise. Just as the Chiefs want to win it for Andy, the 49ers want to win one for the beloved Staley, who decided to continue his San Francisco career only after meeting Shanahan. He was convinced that the 49ers’ young head coach — then the fourth coach the team hired in four years — could win him a Super Bowl. We’ll see if he was right.
A Super Bowl win would certainly provide redemption for 49ers’ CEO Jed York, who hired and fired those three coaches in the three years ahead of Shanahan’s arrival. A sixth 49ers’ Super Bowl win would be his first as the man in charge.
A 49ers win would even validate Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the unquestioned greatest coach of all time. Belichick traded Garoppolo to the 49ers to put him in the best possible situation and to help a young coach he respected (after all, Shanahan had built a 28-3 lead on the defensive genius in the Super Bowl). There’d be no question Belichick was right if the 49ers win.
Win a Super Bowl and everything that preceded the win is part of the lore.
Lose, and you’re just the most exhausted of the NFL’s 30 other losers.
So save your “it’s the journey, not the ending” nonsense for another game. When it’s the Super Bowl, the ending is all that matters, and it means everything.