Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The phrase “Revenge Tour” has been making the rounds on San Francisco 49ers’ fans social media feeds since the team let a lead slip away in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl on February 2, 2020. The team was up 20-10 against the Kansas City Chiefs until head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes orchestrated a comeback for the ages, scoring 21 unanswered points to win their first championship in 50 years.
"I will be back here. I will be back here, and I will be back with a [expletive] vengeance.”
These words spoken by George Kittle during the game reminded many a fan of Kurt Russell’s iconic performance in Tombstone as Wyatt Earp when he proclaimed, “You tell ‘em I’m comin’! And Hell’s coming with me!” And they helped spark the “Revenge Tour” phrase.
Revenge for what?
Did some outside force cause the 49ers’ offense to stall during the fourth quarter of the game? Did someone force the team’s secondary to blow the coverage and allow Tyreek Hill to turn the game around?
The first stage of grief is denial.
The philosopher Epictetus once said, “You must stop blaming God, and not blame any person. You must completely control your desire and shift your avoidance to what lies within your reasoned choice. You must no longer feel anger, resentment, envy or regret”
Nick Bosa was quoted after a Training Camp session on August 9 as saying “I don’t like thinking about the game very much, but I have gone back and I’ve watched up until the fourth quarter.”
Running from the truth will not help the team get back to the Super Bowl. Ignoring that fateful fourth quarter will not help the team get back to the Super Bowl. It’s understandable though. Bosa is only 22. He’s barely old enough to drink. He cannot and should not be expected to bear the wisdom of someone even five years older than him. That is where having such a seasoned front office comes in handy.
"It stinks, you know, it really does,” general manager John Lynch said on February 6. "I think having it in your grasp and you’ve got such a group of men, a locker room, that just cares. They care about each other, they have each other's back. We’ve answered seemingly, we didn't win every game, it wasn't perfect, but we answered every call. To not finish the deal, it hurts. That will stick with us for a lifetime. But, to me it's about what you do going forward."
The second stage of grief is anger.
That last part is important. It’s a sentiment that everyone who has grown up with Michael Caine as Alfred will understand.
“Why do we fall, sir?” Caine’s Alfred asks, consoling a young Bruce Wayne. “So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”
It’s ok to be angry about the loss. Anger can be one of the greatest motivators humans will ever have. Man was built to compete and survive, and our evolution has caused us to take any loss, no matter how big or small, as a potential sleight against our survival. The key is learning to properly channel that anger into motivation for future battles, and when to let it go.
The third stage of grief is bargaining.
On the morning of March 18, I received a message on Twitter that I wasn’t sure how to take.
“They’re finalizing a trade. It’s going to be for a top-15 pick, but people won’t be happy.”
Later on I found out just how unhappy fans would get, as the press release hit my inbox, “49ers Trade DL Buckner.”
Thousands of words have been written by people much more intelligent than me about the merits of chasing a Super Bowl trophy, and the effects of leveraging a team’s immediate future can have. Most times these gambles take shape in the form of high-profile trades for star players. Just look at the recent history of the Los Angeles Rams and the trouble they will have for the next few years building to the future with less-than-ideal draft picks and it can become clear.
Thankfully, Lynch and the front office of the 49ers are not like that of the Rams. At least it seems that way.
Trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for their 13th overall draft pick made all the sense in the world, emotions be damned. Buckner, and his agent, made it clear that they were seeking the kind money that the 49ers would not be able to pay him, not with the team having already begun contract talks with Kittle.
The 49ers also had another problem. Beloved offensive tackle Joe Staley had informed the front office that he had some injuries that were causing him immense pain, and was considering retirement. By the time Staley informed the team of his final decision the Monday before the NFL draft, Lynch was faced with the unenviable task of having to replace two superstars.
So Lynch did what anyone who falls down does. He learned to pick himself back up, did the work and did the things, drafting defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw in the first round of the draft and trading for tackle Trent Williams from the Washington Football Team. The 49ers’ road to the Super Bowl remained intact.
The fourth stage of grief is depression.
“I wish I never had one.”
49ers co-chairman John York was understandably somber when handed a game ball on December 19th. Under normal circumstances, anyone would be ecstatic and proud to be given one. These were not normal circumstances for York, who was given the ball one year and two days after his son, Anthony York, committed suicide. Anthony was someone who fans had likely always seen on the sidelines of games or camps. Anthony loved the team like few did.
(I am well aware that this will publish the day after National Suicide Day. If you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, please seek help. We are all in this together.)
We are all fighting our own battles, and sometimes those battles involve fighting for others who need reinforcements.
"Fight like hell,” Stuart Scott said, as he accepted the fabled Jimmy V award. "And when you get too tired to fight then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”
Each and every member of The Faithful wanted the 49ers to win on February 2.
Each and every member of The Faithful wanted the 49ers to win on February 2, because someone else they knew needed that win. They needed a sign that sometimes, through the most difficult of odds, that a little bit of light could pierce through the darkest of times.
Sometimes that just doesn’t happen, though.
Sometimes our battles don’t end when we expect them to. We work so hard and imagine the finish line is right in front of us, when in reality what we see is a switchback with a 200-foot vertical elevation change. The fight never ends. It can’t, because the good is always right around the corner.
"I also know that I got off the plane, I went to my daughter's basketball game,” John Lynch reminisced. "I can't tell you how many people came up and said thank you. To all the people out there that appreciate that, appreciate the effort of the team, Kyle and his staff, we are appreciative. I think a big part of the turnaround, getting to the Super Bowl, now our goal was to win the Super Bowl, we all know that, but just the feeling that has on this community, the Faithful, the fans, when we go on the road, at home, having the excitement back in here in Levi’s, a lot of positive things transpired. We can't forget about that.”
The fifth stage of grief is acceptance.
The 49ers watched their Super Bowl loss as team shortly before their August 24 practice. It was the kind of communal acceptance of grief that brings families together. That brings teams together. That brings champions together.
“Football is a game that gives you a lot of scars,” offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said "but it’s a matter of how do you come back and use those scars to learn, to grow and then, ultimately, never let them happen again.”
It’s easy to believe George Kittle when he said he, and the team, "will be back with a [expletive] vengeance.” The man who emulates the professional wrestler Penta EL 0M hand motion for “Cero Miedo” (zero fear) always means what he says. On Sunday, the 49ers will have their first opportunity to prove it.
The Revenge Tour won’t start on Sunday. It started back on February 3, and it started within the heart of each member of the 49ers.
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