Unlike college football, in which 30 or more teams win a bowl game and lift a trophy and proclaim themselves winners, the NFL has, in the final analysis, one team that is thrilled and 31 that are anything but.
Arguably, the teams that get close to the ultimate prize before losing end up being even less thrilled than their peers.
This year, the team that came in second has vowed to complete the job in 2013.
“The primary goal of our organization is to win Super Bowls, and we came up just short of achieving that Sunday,” 49ers CEO Jed York said in a message to fans. “The Super Bowl does not just mark the end of a great season, but rather represents the beginning of a bright future for the 49ers and our Faithful fans. I am very proud of our players, coaches, and staff who worked so hard to bring home a championship this season. This was a great year that produced a second consecutive NFC West title, a home playoff game win, a league-high 9 Pro Bowl players, and an NFC Championship. Still, in the end, our quest remains unfulfilled. We now attack the off-season with a renewed spirit and focus on winning the Super Bowl next season.”
It won’t be easy. The losing team has made it back to the Super Bowl only six times, and no team that lost the Super Bowl has returned the next year since the Bills lost four straight from 1990 through 1993.
Moreover, only two teams have won the Super Bowl the year after losing it. The Cowboys beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI after losing to the Colts in Super Bowl V, and the Dolphins then beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII after losing to the Cowboys.
In those days, the the Super Bowl was played in mid-January, and the regular-season consisted of only 14 games. Now, a team that loses a Super Bowl has seven months to recover and reload and relaunch a 16-game season.
So if the Niners pull it off, the feat will essentially be unprecedented.
We’re not saying they can’t. We’re just saying that, given Super Bowl history, it would be one hell of an accomplishment.