Barber: No guarantee 49ers will get back to Super Bowl
Inside a big tent detached from Hard Rock Stadium, as 49ers players took turns at eight podiums arranged in a circle for press conferences following their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, a few consistent themes emerged.
One, as you might imagine, was grief. The Super Bowl loss was a sudden, unsatisfying end to what had felt like a season of destiny for the Niners. Another common subject was respect for the Chiefs, a very good team that had made the bigger plays at the bigger moments.
There was another theme permeating the 49ers’ interviews Sunday night. You heard it again and again: The 49ers will be back — back to fight for the NFL championship again in another Super Bowl.
“We’ll lick our wounds, and we’ll get over this,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We’ll be fired up for next year. We have a lot of people coming back. … We get almost all of these guys back and plan on adding a few more. We’re going to rest a little bit and get over this some, but we will be very fired up for next year.”
“We’re a young team and we’ve got a very bright future,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said.
“This football team is built for the long haul, and I could not be more proud of the guys that we have in our locker room,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “I think we have a ton of talent, and we will be back.”
These were not empty vows. The 49ers have every reason to be bullish on their future.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch both have three years remaining on their contracts. After a bumpy start to their personnel acquisition in 2017, they have proved to be adept at identifying the best players for the systems of Shanahan (the offensive play caller) and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
As Shanahan alluded, most of the 49ers’ important players are under contract for 2020. The exceptions (Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward, Emmanuel Sanders) are few.
And as Garoppolo noted, it’s a pretty young roster. The quarterback is 28. George Kittle, the star tight end, is 26. The top running back, Raheem Mostert, is 27. On defense, steady defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is 25, middle linebacker Fred Warner just 23. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel and edge rusher Nick Bosa, probably the 49ers’ two best players in Super Bowl LIV, were rookies.
Reflect on the Niners’ rags-to-riches season, on the balanced attack they have created on both sides of the ball, on the fact that the 49ers outplayed the talented Chiefs for three-quarters of Sunday’s game and, yeah, it’s pretty obvious. This was just the start of something huge.
The NFL has a way of destroying logic, though. This sport has too many variables, too many puzzle pieces and too many layers of interaction to believe in a predictable path.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Look at the previous five Super Bowls.
Look at the Rams, who lost Super Bowl LIII a year ago. Recall their offense, which scored 527 points in 16 regular season games. That offense was so electrifying that their coach, Sean McVay, was fast-tracked to the top of his profession. Just having spent a year or two working with McVay was enough to get guys hired to head coaching positions last offseason.