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49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan on dealing with a potential Super Bowl hangover

The Niners will try and buck the trend of past Super Bowl losers.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After finishing with a 4-12 record in 2018, the San Francisco 49ers weren’t looked upon as a serious Super Bowl contender going into 2019. Even though quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was fully recovered from a torn ACL suffered in Week 3 of the 2018 season, plus the team added pass-rushing demons Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, most NFL experts felt the Niners’ ceiling was being a contender for a playoff spot.

That notion began to change early in 2019. The 49ers started the season 8-0 —including four beatdowns of opponents— to announce they had arrived. San Francisco went on to a 13-3 season, clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The dominance continued into the playoffs. The Niners smoked the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers to secure a Super Bowl berth. Everything went according to plan for the first 53 minutes of the championship game. The 49ers led the Kansas City Chiefs 20-10 with 7 minutes to go when it all came apart.

Kansas City outscored San Francisco 21-0 the rest of the way and went on to a 31-20 win. That loss stuck with the 49ers’ players. Throughout this unprecedented offseason, many of the returning San Francisco players have alluded to the fact that the team has unfinished business to take care of this year.

The only team over the last 47 years to win the Super Bowl after losing the Big Game the previous season is the 2018 New England Patriots, showing history isn’t on the Niners’ side.

49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media after Monday’s practice and touched on why he isn’t worried about a Super Bowl hangover.

“Every single person is different. I don’t know exactly what affects the guys, but each year is different. You come in thinking about the last year, it doesn’t matter,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s more exciting when you’re coming off a 4-12 season and guys are coming in, ‘Hey, I think we’re a lot better than that. Let’s go prove ourselves.’ I think we proved that we were better than that last year, but also our guys know that that’s completely last year.”

San Francisco certainly proved that the 2018 season wasn’t an indicator of a lack of talent on the roster. The Garoppolo injury torpedoed any chance the team had of making the playoffs.

Now, just two years later, the expectations are vastly different. Losing veterans Joe Staley, DeForest Buckner, and Emmanuel Sanders hurts, but it’s still championship or bust for a group that is returning a majority of its starters on both sides of the ball. Shanahan feels the players’ experience last season will help them come in with a fresh mindset in 2020.

“We do have a different team this year. There are different players, different coaches, and even the people who are the same; you’re always different the next year, and you’re either worse, or you’re better,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got to work pretty dang hard to be better than we were. If we’re not, then it’s going to show. So that’s what our guys are kind of focused on that. How much better can we be? We’ve got to find that in order to get to that spot. We also know we’ve got to find that just to get to the playoffs. I don’t think guys think about much of the year before.”

Shanahan knows how difficult it is to maintain a dynasty in the NFL. He pointed to factors like the salary cap and player turnover on why it is challenging to sustain an extended run as a championship contender. Coming off of the Super Bowl loss, his primary focus is that his squad stays sharp and doesn’t get complacent.

“You’ve also got to understand that in this league, you only get better or you get worse, and it is very hard to get better when you think you were that good. You better be extremely humble, you better recognize that, and you better be willing to put in the pain and sacrifice that it goes through to get to that moment,” Shanahan said. “I always say that in order to get to heaven, you’ve got to go through hell, and I feel like that’s what you do ... If you do, that gives you a chance at the end of the year to be the only happy team in the league.”