Losing a championship game is never easy. No matter the sport or the level of competition. But when you had it—when it was in your hands and you let it slip out—it's devastating. As we approach Super Bowl Sunday and the showdown between the 49ers and Ravens, it's easy to forget about what happened just one year ago.
In last season's AFC Title game, Baltimore was locked in a tight battle against the Patriots in Foxborough. The Ravens had the ball at the New England 19, trailing 23-20 with less than 30 seconds to play. That's when Joe Flacco found Lee Evans in the right corner of the end zone. Right in his hands—then right back out. Evans couldn't secure it. It would have advanced Baltimore to the Super Bowl, but instead they had to settle for the game-tying field goal.
Or, maybe not.
Billy Cundiff shanked his 32-yard attempt wide to the left, and the Patriots somehow escaped. The Ravens couldn't believe it. Cundiff took the brunt of the criticism but it was just as much on Evans, if not more. There aren't many cruddier ways to lose a game.
That is, unless you're the 49ers.
San Francisco found itself locked in a game for the ages with the New York Giants in last year's NFC Championship. Tied at 17-17 in overtime, the 49ers forced a Giants punt and the home crowd could sense the game was nearing a happy conclusion. But that's when Kyle Williams, the 49ers' punt-returner who had already fumbled once on the day, coughed it up again. This time, it was crippling.
New York fell on it at San Francisco's 24 yard line, and just a few plays later Lawrence Tynes drilled a 31-yarder to send the G-Men to the Super Bowl.
Two games on two complete opposite sides of the country with one result: the heartbreak of knowing what could have been.
That's what makes this year's matchup so special. Having a season end like that can crush a team. But due to their resiliency, we all get to be reminded of the positive side of sports; the side we were taught as kids.
Neither group pouted, placed blame elsewhere or gave up hope. Instead, they battled through the summer heat of training camp, the grind of the 16-game regular season, then overcame late-fourth-quarter deficits (Ravens in Denver, ‘Niners in Atlanta) to win road playoff games.
They got back on their feet, fought their way back to the very moment they failed 12 months ago, and overcame.
So when these two teams take the field Sunday, know the path they took to get there. And know that adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it. The Ravens and 49ers have the heart of a champion.