Of Super Bowls and Dynasties and a League Built for Parity


Dynasty is another word that rolls too easily off the lips of too many in the sports world. I’m not sure whether our collective custom of hyperbolizing every turn in a sequence began with politicians, cable-news media or sports, but Sunday’s Super Bowl Sunday inspired yet another bout of rhetorical overreach. Then again, that is bedrock for an event that was self-identified as “super” before the first one was played 58 years ago.

Kansas City’s 25-22 win over San Francisco in Las Vegas was the Chiefs’ second SB win in a row and third in five years. An impressive feat, certainly — the NFL had not seen back-to-back champions in 20 years — but required an overtime period impelled by two freakish special-teams errors by the 49ers to open the door. All within the realm of rules and customs, of course, but the Chiefs’ harrowing triumph in the 75th minute of play did not at all resemble, say, the 13th century works of Genghis Khan, his many offspring and the Mongol Empire. Dunno if a similar world dominion is Travis Kelce’s ambition with Taylor Swift, but if so, they best get busy.

The Chiefs won, barely and fairly, and the Niners lost identically. The defeat is nearly as interesting from a Seattle perspective, because the victim was the Seahawks’ chief rival. Since 1995, the 49ers have reached a conference final eight times, yet have not won a Super Bowl, something they had done six previous times in the glory days of quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.

But because of a Chiefs punt that became a turnover after the ball descended from near the roof of Allegiant Stadium onto the foot of a stunned 49ers blocker, setting up a 16-yard touchdown pass on the next play, plus an exceedingly rare block on a point-after kick, San Francisco gave away the game on the edges. The Chiefs had to take it, of course, yet for a long time seemed reluctant. In the end, QB Patrick Mahomes, a three-time Super Bowl MVP at age 28, mustered enough charge to ooze ahead, earning every bit of his NFL-high $56 million annual compensation.

But the random acts that doomed the 49ers are also part of the charm of a sport that can create an informal national holiday witnessed by 120 million-plus people. The NFL has the most exquisitely balanced competitiveness of any pro spectator team sport on the planet. Regularly, behemoths fail short and the infirm rise, often pivoting on randomness. Even though 12 teams have never won a Super Bowl, many fans of those teams believe (often extravagantly) they are a good draft or two away. As they say around the Trump campaign, it’s not about truth, it’s about belief.

The regular change of fortunes can be seen in the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry, and explain a chunk of the rationale for dumping coach Pete Carroll despite his 14-year record of success. The Niners have won the past five games in the series by a combined score of 148-72. But starting with the 2014 NFC Championship game, a 23-17 Seattle triumph in perhaps the most intense sports event I have witnessed in person, the Seahawks ran off 10 series wins in a row. The inability this season to draw closer to the 49ers (and the Los Angeles Rams, who also took both games from the Seahawks) created the rationale in Renton for regime change. Had that 49ers punt-return blocker, Darrell Luter Jr., moved his foot a bit, the NFL champions likely would have come from the NFC West in two of the past three seasons, following the Rams’ home-field SB win two years ago.

The Seahawks hope the 49ers have peaked. Coach Kyle Shanahan, who saw in the second quarter one of his best defenders, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, tear his Achilles tendon merely running onto the field after a change of possession, lost a second Super Bowl to the Chiefs (31-20 in 2019). He also was offensive coordinator in Atlanta when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead and lost to the Patriots in 2017. As Carroll can tell him, losing a Super Bowl leaves a mark on the soul.

Then again, Chiefs coach Andy Reid also went through the almost-but-not-quite syndrome during his tenure with the Eagles. Perhaps Reid’s greatest feat in Kansas City was building quality rosters under the NFL salary cap despite the burden of Mahomes’ premier contract. Shanahan, meanwhile, had in Brock Purdy, who led the NFL in passer rating, the cheapest salary ($889,000) of all regular starting QBs. The 49ers have eight players with contracts in the top 10 of average annual value at their positions, and no championships.

In charge of closing the NFC West gap is Carroll’s successor, Mike Macdonald, the highly regarded defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. He hired as offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, the OC at Washington during the Huskies’ two-year rise to the top of college football behind a relentless passing attack. Grubb spent a month at Alabama following his old UW boss, Kalen DeBoer, before going mercenary again with a return to Seattle. The dubious maneuver is malodorous, but the stink rests mostly with college football’s outlaw ways.

Macdonald and Grubb are known for successes in orchestrating line play. It is where the 49ers and Rams have excelled, and where the Seahawks have been weakest under Carroll. The general manager who hired them, John Schneider, now has to deliver better in the draft than he did for Carroll. If the new management comes together quickly, they may have a shot at reworking the NFC West’s suddenly vulnerable world order.

“It just hurts,” Purdy said at a press conference afterward. “We have the team obviously to do it, to win the whole thing, and then to come up short like that . . . the way things have been the last couple of years here, everyone wanted it so bad.”

Even if there were such things as dynasties in pro football, the 49ers are a long way away. It’s been 29 years since they won a Super Bowl, and the chance to attempt to start one missed by a random foot. Seahawks fans know a little something about one bad play collapsing a Super Bowl dream.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at SportsPressNW.com.


  1. Thanks for the article, Art. My thoughts on the Seahawks this past season were that they needed much more than a pep talk from coach Carroll to improve.
    And in reference to your last sentence, boy do we ever!


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