Today was a big day for NFL fans in general but also for SF Bay Area football fans as well. The San Francisco 49ers were playing the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. The 49ers have not won a Super Bowl since 1995. A win would have given the 49ers their sixth Super Bowl Championship in the history of the team. Unfortunately, things didn't quite go the 49ers way and they lost 34-41.
While there will be plenty of analysis of the game over the coming days, winning a championship cements a team's place in history. Thus the Ravens will be forever noted as the Super Bowl champions of the 2012-2013 NFL season. But how big of a difference is there between the champion Ravens and the runner-up 49ers?
The Ravens have earned bragging rights, championship rings, endorsement money and a championship trophy. The championship is also an important thing when judging whether certain players were "very good" or "elite". Additionally, if any of the players on the Ravens are Hall Of Fame worthy in the future, winning a championship is taken into consideration.
But let's not forget the 49ers. The sting of losing the game will be with the 49ers for a while. They don't get the pride of being a Super Bowl champion. The endorsements and other perks may not be available to them. However, the 49ers DO GET RINGS for being the NFC Champions. Yes, it is a consolation prize. While most of the players may not be satisfied with being runner-ups, some players will treasure it greatly. The good news? For most of the players, they will get back to practice in August and get another shot to try to get back to the Super Bowl.
I always remember a story from the San Francisco Giants 2002 World Series season. The Giants had won the National League championship and played the Anaheim Angels in the 2002 World Series. The Giants had a chance to win their first World Series championship in 50+ years but lost to the Angels in 7 games. While it was a disappointment to all involved, a veteran player (Shawon Dunston) commented a few years later that he was proud of his National League championship ring. Dunston had never gotten a chance to play in the World Series until 2002 and thus chose to keep things in perspective despite the tough loss for the team.
Some years ago, I was playing on one of my church basketball leagues. One of my friends was leading and giving a message to all the teams / players. He asked us a pretty basic question: "Can you remember last year's NBA champion? How about the past 5 years? 10 years?" Even for a basketball fan like me, I couldn't name all the NBA champions in the past years at that time.
What was the main point? From youth basketball teams, to NBA / NFL teams and the teams in my adult leagues, everyone wants to be a champion. Yet, even if a team wins (or loses) a championship, a few months later, it will be mostly forgotten over time except for those involved and the fans.
As a fan, I was disappointed the 49ers couldn't win the Super Bowl. So I can imagine how the players might feel. However, I hope they take this experience in perspective and realize how much of a blessing it was to JUST PLAY in the Super Bowl. Never take it for granted that you will get another chance to play again.