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Shanahan compares coaching 49ers, Falcons' crushing Super Bowl losses

Shanahan compares coaching 49ers, Falcons' crushing Super Bowl losses originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Much discourse surrounding Super Bowl LVIII has been about the 49ers' eagerness to avenge their Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020.

But for San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, the former Falcons offensive coordinator also must face other ghosts from his past, as he was part of Atlanta’s Super Bowl LI collapse against the New England Patriots in 2017.

In a conversation with NBC Sports’ Peter King for his latest “Football Morning in America" column, Shanahan compared his past two Super Bowl defeats and shared which loss stung worse.

“No,” Shanahan told King when asked if he’s haunted by the Falcons’ loss. “It hurts. It doesn’t kill you. You understand what happened. You understand you can handle it. You can take it. ‘Haunted’ is just such the wrong word. It makes you stronger, really. But, you know, if you tell me before that game you’re going to blow a 28-3 lead and lose, I’d be like, ‘Do I ever come out of my room again?’

“You realize, this is sports. Any one of 20 different plays would’ve changed that game. But I also understand that the quarterback on the other side [Tom Brady] did the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. He performed surgery for an entire second half. The harder one was the Kansas City game, personally. As you get older and you go through the experience, you just … you try to control everything. You realize you can’t. You also realize you can handle it. And you realize how much you love it.”

But in Shanahan style, he derived silver linings from the two heartbreaking collapses, a difficult task for a coach who wants to win just as much as anyone else.

In response to King, who brought up Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly to Shanahan and how the Pro Football Hall of Fame member loved playing football even after losing four consecutive Super Bowls, Shanahan discussed what football teaches him as a person.

“I couldn’t agree [with Kelly] more,” Shanahan told King. “What does get you choked up is how close you get with people when you go on a playoff run, a Super Bowl run. You’ll remember it forever—all the shared sacrifice. When you lose, and you feel the heartbreak, you get to see how you handle it, how you react, how you handle the pressure the next time. And, oh my gosh, you realize, ‘I am this. I can do this.’ You get to go through something you love, something that’s more important in life than almost anything.

“That’s what I learned about football growing up, but it only gets stronger as I get older. Football teaches you who you are.”

Shanahan is familiar with persevering through difficult times and losses, as the coach began his time in San Francisco with a 0-9 start and ultimate 6-10 record in 2017.

Fast forward to 2024, and Shanahan is preparing the 49ers for their second Super Bowl appearance with him as coach.

As Shanahan said, his understanding of life and football alike only “gets stronger” as he ages.

Against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Feb. 11 in Las Vegas, Shanahan will need to summon everything and more to help lead the 49ers to their sixth Super Bowl victory in franchise history.

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