Only seven yards stood between the San Francisco 49ers and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, comebacks in Super Bowl history. Seven yards.
But fate is a fickle mistress, and in four plays, the 49ers could only get two yards closer to fulfilling their dream, and their near-miraculous 22-point comeback came up short. The Baltimore Ravens were Super Bowl champions.
Being a Super Bowl champion is a historical accomplishment in and of itself, but when it comes down to a last-minute, game-winning drive, or the toppling of an insurmountable lead, it just feels more important.
To wit, four of the last five Super Bowls prior to this one were decided by a last-minute, game-winning score and they have been described as some of the best Super Bowls ever. There is just something about that last-minute score that excites fans and creates lasting memories.
The largest deficit overcome in a Super Bowl is 10 points. This was accomplished twice, in 1988 by the Washington Redskins over the Denver Broncos, and again in 2009 by the New Orleans Saints over the Indianapolis Colts.
But those are not the only momentous comebacks in Super Bowl history. In 2001, a young Tom Brady led his New England Patriots to a huge upset over the St. Louis Rams with a last-second drive setting up a walk-off field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Brady repeated that magic in 2003 when he again led a last-second drive, setting up another game-winning Vinateri field goal that beat the Carolina Panthers.
In 2007, the New York Giants pulled off a large upset, ending New England’s bid for a perfect 19-0 record on one of the best drives in NFL history, highlighted by David Tyree catching a deep ball from Eli Manning on his helmet.
However, the most famous game-winning drive in a Super Bowl was conducted by these same 49ers and the legendary Joe Montana in 1989. They marched 92 yards in under three minutes to score the game winning touchdown with just 34 seconds left.
It is a stark contrast. While one 49ers team will go down in NFL story books, immortalized forever as the team that orchestrated “The Drive,” the other has found itself on the wrong side of history. But they are not alone there.
The 49ers failing right at the doorstep of the end zone is reminiscent of the Tennessee Titans falling a yard short of tying the Super Bowl in 1999. The image of wide receiver Kevin Dyson stretching the ball out in vain was shown over and over again in the following weeks, much like the no-call on a potential holding call in the end zone at the end of this Super Bowl will be.
However, as is often said, the history books are written by the victors. The Titans’ last gasp has lost its significance to time, with the real story becoming the “Greatest Show on Turf,” about the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams and their MVP quarterback Kurt Warner.
So too will the 49ers’ near miraculous comeback be lost in the annals of time. There are certainly things that will be remembered about this Super Bowl: brothers coaching against each other, a power outage during the game, and Jacoby Jones’ record-tying 108-yard kickoff return, but the near comeback will not be one of them.
The 49ers had their moment of glory in hand, one of the greatest Super Bowl comebacks of all time, and they let it slip through their grasp.
Just seven yards stopped the 49ers from achieving their dreams.