Supe 58: An Uncomfortable Runback?

So we now have our Super Bowl combatants, and to be honest, it’s not my preferred matchup.  I have many extremely passionate Detroit Lions fans among my circle of friends and, sorry to say, “friends”, and I tend to pull for the underdog anyway.  The storyline that was on the way to being written as late as halftime of last night’s NFC championship game in Santa Clara was exhilarating.  A team that had never been to a Super Bowl, that last won a league title before even I was born, was up two touchdowns on the road against a seemingly dazed San Francisco 49ers team, and its considerable array of traveling fans who probably mortgaged several homes for a taste of history and warm weather were giddy with excitement.

But then, the flights of fantasy turned into an all-too familiar familiar reality.  Wait, let a true Lions lover, USA TODAY TOUCHDOWN WIRE’s Jeff Risdon, tell you what happened:

All the positive vibes, the sharp execution and deft playmaking changed sides in the second half. The 49ers played like they remembered they were the No. 1 seed and playing in front of a partisan crowd. The attention to detail and playmaking focus went into the ocean for the Lions.

One funky play changed the course of the game. 49ers QB Brock Purdy overthrew wideout Brandon Aiyuk on a deep ball, but the ball ricocheted off the facemask of Lions CB Kindle Vildor and back into Aiyuk’s hands. It was the momentum-changer the 49ers desperately needed.

The Lions never recovered. Jahmyr Gibbs fumbled away the ball on the very next play, which led to another quick 49ers touchdown. Josh Reynolds dropped two great throws from Jared Goff that ended drives. Goff missed Amon-Ra St. Brown on another fourth down on a poorly executed play, one where Dan Campbell chose not to kick a field goal for the second time in the half.

The San Francisco 49ers dominated the second half and seized the conference title and a trip to the Super Bowl with a 34-31 win in the NFC Championship game over the Lions.

At least this game, and the Niners’ spirited rebound, was compelling TV, which will likely shatter even the 50 million-viewer mark their Saturday night comeback win the previous week against Green Bay attracted.  The same couldn’t be said for the AFC title tilt, a tepid and disappointing afternoon affair where the Kansas City Chiefs meticulously and methodically dampened the dreams of the first-time hosting Baltimore Ravens.  Despite a sometimes meh regular season where the defending Super Bowl champs slogged to an 11-6 record and a third seed that left quarterback Patrick Mahomes with his first true test as a playoff road warrior, when it counted most he performed more than well enough to earn his fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years.

Even ARROWHEAD REPORT on FAN NATION’s Jordan Foote had difficulty expressing anything more than surprise at the result:

For the second year in a row, Andy Reid’s team has a chance to compete for the greatest honor the NFL has to offer. This year, it comes on the heels of a 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.  The Chiefs’ AFC Championship Game win wasn’t pretty, but this campaign hasn’t been pretty. There were plenty of times on Sunday where the visitors were tested, allowing them to ultimately pass through to the real championship game. Thanks to some early offense and more great defense, the Lamar Hunt trophy is going back to Kansas City and the Chiefs’ original goal from before the season is still alive.

So sure, it’s nice to see the familiar face of that charming walrus Andy Reid holding yet another conference championship trophy, and a chance to truly cement himself in the all-time coaching pantheon with a potential back-to-back and almost insurmountable ownership of the 2020s if he can repeat the results of the 34th day of the first four-digit year to begin with a 2 that occurred on the Indian legend-cursed sod of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, a 31-20 comeback against a 49ers team that went into that game as the favorite.

If you have blocked out that memory for reasons other than being a disappointed Niners fan, it’s understandable.  The world, and certainly I, were not in the best of mindsets that day.  I was less than six weeks removed from two surgeries and was still technically in the midst of a medical quarantine that, as it turned out, was slightly ahead of the timetable of billions of others’.  We were just beginning to hear news of this “bird flu” that was overtaking Wuhan, China and were beginning to see stories of folks taking ill in the Seattle area.  The primary season was only beginning that day.  Joe Biden was almost a month away from even emerging as a viable alternative to the increasingly unglued Donald Jessica Trump. (G-d bless your sense of humor, Randy Rainbow).  The remains of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other girls basketball worshippers had barely been laid to rest.

So do forgive me if I’m not quite as excited by the Super Bowl 58 rematch as I may have been for, let’s say, Lions-Ravens or even a true season bookend to this season’s first regular season game, the potentially prescient upset by Detroit over the defending champs on their Arrowhead Stadium home turf.

Then again, not quite everything is as it was then.  The Niners are now led by a healthy and deadly accurate Brock Purdy, not the often frustratingly inconsistent (and current Las Vegas resident Jimmy Garroppolo) and it is arguably his presence that was the deciding factor last night (do recall last year Purdy was barely mobile, and they suffered an embarassing 34-7 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles).  On the heels of that and their fourth quarter disappointment at the hands of the Rams the year before, it is Kyle Shanahan’s team that is now the underdog in many ways.  Though not necessarily in the minds of the oddsmakers, who have established them as an early two-point favorite.

And the venue this time, for the first time in Super Bowl history, is Las Vegas itself, and the “Death Star on the Strip”, Allegiant Stadium.  Familiar territory for traveling Chiefs fans and potentially drivable for the more well-off Bay Area faithful.  We certainly know at least one fan who will be in attendance, probably with a trophy or two of her own in hand (hey, this year alone she’s practically becoming a CBS Sunday night fixture not seen since the days of MURDER, SHE WROTE).

So maybe there’s reason to be hopeful and upbeat about this rematch that will revisit a time that in hindsight was in the midst of unprecedented life upheaval.  Certainly, if you turn your attention to the political landscape, you can’t avoid that.  There’s also more than a tinge of geographic irony that the Nevada primaries and caucases will immediately precede the game.

Here’s hoping this KC-SF game can prove to be as much of a welcome distraction than the previous one was.

Courage…

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