Boy, what I wouldn't give to trade places with the fans of the Giants or Patriots right about now. Their teams will be meeting in Super Bowl XLVI on February 5th in Indianapolis, and I'll bet each fan base is walking around on cloud 9 this morning.
It was a year ago today that I was feeling that same euphoria when Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown hooked up on 3rd and 6 for a critical completion in the closing moments of the AFC Championship game to seal a trip to Super Bowl XLV for the Steelers.
It goes without saying that two weeks from today, the fans of the losing team will be feeling pretty dejected. That's natural, of course. Why wouldn't you feel depressed immediately after your team lost the Super Bowl? I was feeling pretty low after the Steelers lost to the Packers last season. But that didn't take away from how awesome the two-week build-up was for me.
For a lot of fans in any sport, simply making it to the finals means nothing unless their team brings home the hardware. "I'd rather see the Steelers lose in the first round of the playoffs than see them lose in the Super Bowl. If they're not going to win, what's the point?" Well, because of how awesome being in the Super Bowl is. The Steelers sure did comply this season by losing to the Broncos in the wild card round. Call me crazy, but I would much rather have seen them make it to Indianapolis and take their chances in the Super Bowl for a second straight season.
Somewhere along the way, being the runner-up in the championship round has become almost as damning for a team as even a losing season. Like Mr. Malor was fond of reminding Steelers fans last summer, "the Super Bowl runner-up is still the first loser." Speaking of that, maybe it's a good thing the Steelers didn't make it back to the Super Bowl this year, because if there's something worse than losing in the championship round, it's going down two years in a row. And had Pittsburgh been on the losing-end for a second-straight year, it would have put them in the same category as those "losers," the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.
Speaking of the Bills, you would think making it to four-straight Super Bowls would be considered a tremendous achievement--heck, there are teams that have been around for decades that haven't even made it once--but for the Buffalo Bills, who accomplished the feat in the early 90's, and their fans, it became more a source of angst than a source of pride after the Bills failed to come home with the Lombardi trophy even once. I'm sure in the context of the early 90's, by the fourth time, it probably felt like just another round of the playoffs, and losing four-straight years would take it's toll on both the players and fans, but I wonder if they look back on it fondly today, because it was an unbelievable accomplishment, and something that may never be duplicated.
A lot of hockey fans and experts will tell you that the hardest championship to win is the Stanley Cup because a team must survive four-grueling best of seven series. However, hockey players won't even allow themselves to enjoy winning the conference championship. And it has become common-place for them to not touch the trophy that's presented to the conference winner because they think it will jinx them in the Stanley Cup Finals. Hey, if you were good enough to make it through three-straight best of seven series, the last thing you have to worry about is bad luck.
To his credit, Penguins legend Mario Lemieux grabbed the Wales Trophy and paraded it around the old Civic Arena after his team won the Eastern Conference Finals in 1991. The Penguins were a downtrodden franchise for years, and Lemieux didn't care about any superstitions. At that point, it was the greatest single-achievement in franchise history, and Lemieux wanted to share it with the many long-suffering Pens fans who were in attendance.
Along those same lines, one of my favorite NFL stories is about the 1977 Denver Broncos and their magical run to Super Bowl XII. The Broncos never so much as made the playoffs in their entire history prior to '77, yet they were able to make it all the way to the Super Bowl after knocking off the Steelers and Raiders in the postseason. Even though the Broncos lost to the Cowboys, the 1977 season is often credited with transforming the entire City of Denver. There was even a book written about it. Great story. Former wide receiver Haven Moses was a member of that '77 Broncos team, and if you watch the end of this video, his emotion encapsulates how many Broncos players and fans felt about their team just making it to the Super Bowl after so many miserable seasons.
Yes, winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate, but making it there, well, that's pretty darn special, too.