At A Loss When It Comes to Explaining Super Bowl Runners-Up

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 15, 2013



By Russell S. Baxter
Cold Hard Football Facts Minister of Information

A few weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers attempted to become the second franchise to win at least six Super Bowls, equaling the accomplishment of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2013, the 49ers will attempt to do something that has not happened in the National Football League in more than 40 years.

In this age of parity where repeating as Super Bowl champions has become tougher than ever, rebounding from a loss in the Big Game has been even harder.

And it’s a streak that’s been going on far longer than the free agency era, which began in 1993.

Only twice in the history of the Super Bowl has a team lost that game, then rebounded to capture the Lombardi Trophy a season later.

The 1971 Dallas Cowboys were the first, losers to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V in Miami and then winners a year later over the Miami Dolphins at New Orleans in Super Bowl VI.

One season later, the Dolphins shook off that setback in historical fashion. Don Shula’s team went 17-0 en route to their 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins

That’s it. That’s the last time a team lost the Super Bowl, then came back and won it all.

It’s almost hard to believe. And even tougher to swallow then you consider how many times franchises like the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills came up short on Super Sunday and somehow didn’t benefit from the experience.

Of course, a lot has to do with the current era, where we haven’t seen a team make consecutive Super Bowl appearances since the 2003 and ’04 New England Patriots, who happen to capture Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX.

Then again, we had that recent stretch that made it virtually impossible for a Super Bowl loser to get another crack at the title because they were failing to get back to the playoffs.

Starting with the New York Giants’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, we saw 7-of-8 teams that lost on Super Sunday fail to go to the playoffs the following season, the 2006 Seahawks (which had lost Super Bowl XL the previous year) the lone exception.

Now the 49ers hope to be the fifth consecutive team to lose the Super Bowl and make the postseason tournament a year later.

The Cardinals, Colts, Steelers and Patriots, respectively, all made the playoffs each of the last four years, but only New England got as far as the conference title game, a 28-13 loss to the Ravens in January.

In fact, “losers” have fared better than winner those lost four years when it comes to getting back to the Super Bowl. Both the Steelers and Giants failed to get back to the postseason after winning Super Bowls XLIII and XLVI, respectively.

But why the 40-plus year drought when it comes to the runner-up? It’s almost inexplicable because you would think that once a team goes through the Super Bowl experience they know what it takes to get back to that game.

Still, it has gotten worse than better. With dynasties such as the 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers, 1980s 49ers and 1990s Cowboys, as well as other teams like the Redskins, Dolphins and Raiders being regular participants, only 12 different teams won the first 27 Super Bowls prior to free agency.

Only 13 different clubs lost a Super Bowl over that same span, including multiple setbacks by teams such as the Vikings, Broncos and Bills.

Fast forward to the current era, where we have now seen 20 Super Bowls played dating back to the start of the 1993 season. Once again, there have been only 12 different winners, with teams like the Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Giants and Ravens winning more than once. But those last 20 games have seen more than half of the current teams in the league (17) lose at least one Super Bowl, with New England and Pittsburgh the only repeat clubs on that latter list.

Well, so much for that theory of falling off a bicycle and…you know the rest.

It’s impossible in early February to predict what lies ahead for the 49ers in 2013, as well as the champion Ravens. But for those who like to use the phrase of “good losses” and “bad losses,” you would have to do some fancy talking to convince anyone that’s there’s been anything good about losing a Super Bowl.


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