Seven weeks and one day ago, the Panthers capped a 17-1 season with a loss to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Carolina G.M. Dave Gettleman, who told PFT Live in late February that he had yet to watch the tape of the game, still hasn’t seen it.
“I will eventually. But not yet. It’s hard,” Gettleman said last week, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “You’re devastated. You’ve got 125 people, 150 people working their asses off and you’re this close. And then, wham! It’s hard. It sucks.”
To prove his point, Gettleman compared the situation to the final moments of a beauty pageant, with the last two contestants standing between an emcee who is poised to read the results from the card. (A process that isn’t as foolproof as previously believed.)
“There’s two gals there,” Gettleman said. “Then they announce who the first runner-up is. Just imagine you come in second. Coming in second sucks.”
He’s right, especially as it relates to the NFL. The 20 teams that don’t make it to the postseason for the most part die a slow death, with many of them knowing well before Week 17 that it’s over. For the four who exit in the wild-card round, that hurts. For the four who lose in the divisional round, it hurts even more. For the half of the Final Four that falls in the conference title round, it’s worse still.
For the Super Bowl loser, who along with the winner become the two teams who are remembered the most when a given season is recalled, the pain is permanent. Regular-season records come and go, but a team’s record in the Super Bowl has tattoo permanence, and Carolina is now halfway to Minnesota and Buffalo’s record of 0-4 futility in the game that matters the most.
The 0-2 mark could become 1-2 (or 0-3) before too long, especially since coach Ron Rivera has become an expert at pressing buttons to get the most out of his players. And Rivera already has found his mantra for 2016: Becoming the first team since the 1993 Bills to return to the Super Bowl after losing it.
“It’s a challenge,” Rivera said, via Person. “And I think you may have just given me my next challenge as we go forward – something people say we’re not going to be able to do and we can’t do because it hasn’t been done. Why don’t we try? Seriously, that’s the way I look at it.”
That’s the best way to get the attention of a team that climbed to the top of the mountain, saw another team plant the flag there first, and then tumbled all the way back to 0-0 with the task of getting up, dusting off, and starting the climb all over again.
Who better to pull it off than a team no one dreamed would lose only once before the most recent Super Bowl? Especially since, unlike the Broncos, the Panthers remain relatively intact after their run to the championship game.