By David Mullen
In a difficult-to-describe Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami Gardens, Fla., the Kansas City Chiefs came back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with 21 unanswered points for a 31-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Sports scribes in the team’s markets had a challenge to capture the elation and deflation in print.
The front-page headline in the Feb. 3 Kansas City Star read, “CHAMPS! A Chiefs party 50 years coming: ‘Like a fantasy, and it all came true.’” In Kansas City, people hardly need a reason to party. But in reality, their star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, named the game’s MVP because they had to award it to someone, struggled for most of the game, making Chiefs fans cry in their Boulevard Pale Ale for the first three and one-half quarters.
The sports section headline in the Feb. 3 Bay Area News Group (San Jose Mercury News, East Bay Times and others) papers not so subtly stated, “[Head coach Kyle] Shanahan, [quarterback Jimmy] Garoppolo’s 49ers will be defined by their Super Bowl LIV choke.”
Choke is a strong term to describe a 49ers team that rebounded from a four-win 2018 season to go 15-3 (counting two playoff wins) in 2019 and made it to the promised land. When the 49ers won their last Super Bowl (1995), more than two dozen players on the current roster weren’t even born.
Star sportswriter Jeff Rosen penned, “Mahomes, Tyrann Mathieu [safety nicknamed ‘Honey Badger’], [head coach] Andy Reid, [owners] Norma and Clark and the rest of the Hunt family — not to mention every other player on the Chiefs’ 53-man roster, plus countless front-office and support staff, plus anyone who’s ever been associated with or roots for this team — each deserves these moments of joy. The sun rose today in South Florida and back home in KC and everywhere else the Chiefs Kingdom extends, and by God, this not only actually happened but is very much still happening.”
It is hard for me to believe that God had the Chiefs giving San Francisco one and one-half points, but the Holiness probably did watch the commercials.
The article in the Bay Area News Group, written by Dieter Kurtenbach, stated, “As the offensive play-caller of arguably the two worst Super Bowl collapses of all time, Shanahan will be divvied the vast majority of the blame for Sunday’s loss, but upon further review, it’s difficult to say what play he called incorrectly down the stretch. No, the Niners were done in by Shanahan’s overall conservatism and fear of Mahomes in conjunction with a defense that fell apart at the exact wrong moments, a team that lost its focus and a quarterback [Garoppolo] who proved lesser-than when so much more was required. Do the 49ers have a good enough quarterback to win the Super Bowl? Sunday, the answer was clear: No.”
Bitter words coming from “Baghdad by the Bay” about a young team — that includes the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa — that will be favored to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl next season.
It was not a great game, but Super Bowls rarely are. Of the 54 previous championship games, maybe 10 could be called compelling to the end. The pregame hype this year focused on whether a stingy 49ers defense could slow down Mahomes and a speedy Chiefs team and if Kansas City’s Reid could shake the label of being the winningest coach in NFL history without a victory in the big game.
As a sidebar (as they say in the media business), in the Sept. 6, 2019 edition of this column, I made my Super Bowl prediction. “Kansas City wins their first Super Bowl since the 1969 season and the AFL/NFL merger.” The odds last August were 9 to 1 for the Chiefs to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy on Feb. 2. I actually got one right, but I am impartial and not particularly a fan of either franchise. And, of course, I did not put my money where my keyboard is.
Call it another great Chiefs comeback capping off a year of countless comebacks or a monumental 49ers collapse, but in cities separated by more than 1,800 miles, viewpoints are light-years apart.