SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Offensive tackle Trent Williams watched from afar as the San Francisco 49ers collapsed during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, ultimately suffering a gut-punch loss at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Williams, who joined the 49ers in a trade this spring after sitting out the 2019 season, knew that 31-20 loss on Feb. 2 wouldn't soon leave the minds of his new teammates. It's been ingrained, and it all came rushing back last week when coach Kyle Shanahan gathered the entire team and showed them clips from the game -- the first time they'd relived it as a group since it happened.
"I can feel the cringe any time that film comes on," Williams said. "Everybody still is pretty much holding a grudge about the last game and they can't wait to get out there and kind of start that quest again. I'm just happy to be a part of it and hopefully I can get back to the big dance with those guys and we can have a different outcome. ... They're definitely motivated and they're definitely driven by the way that last year ended."
In the waning moments of the loss to the Chiefs, NFL Films caught tight end George Kittle vowing to return to the big game with a vengeance. In the days after, other teammates echoed that sentiment, and linebacker Kwon Alexander and Kittle began touting what they've dubbed "The Legendary Revenge Tour."
History says getting back to the Super Bowl is a difficult task all by itself. Returning to the Super Bowl and actually winning it the next season? Good luck.
Only three teams have won the Lombardi Trophy the year after losing in the Super Bowl. The 2018 New England Patriots are the most recent example, but they're the only team to do it in the past 47 years. In other words, history is against the 49ers. Not that they care.
"We have some unfinished business," running back Raheem Mostert said. "We've seen all the different sayings and stuff like that, of how a team doesn't make it back to the Super Bowl the following year. We don't care nothing about that. I think George emphasized it in the Super Bowl. He will be back. I think that was everyone's mentality. I feel like we're going to be back this year and we're actually going to win it. That's our goal, that's our mindset. We don't care what happened in the past, the past is the past. We're going to move on and we're going to dominate this game the way we know how to."
Of course, before the Niners could move on to this season, they had to go through their own grieving process. Shanahan made it clear to his team before it parted ways in February that each guy had to take his time and do what he needed to flush the disappointment from his system. But he didn't want them to forget what happened, either.
Which is why, depending on whom you talk to, the approach to reliving the loss varied greatly. Free safety Jimmie Ward said he couldn't bear to watch the game for the first few months. When he finally did, he estimated he watched it 10 to 20 times. Defensive end Nick Bosa said he hasn't watched it much but when he does, he has refused to watch the fourth quarter, when the team's 10-point lead evaporated. Others have said they watched it quickly in an effort to put it behind them.
So when Shanahan brought the tape out, along with clips of other "must have" scenarios, in that team meeting last week, he did so with a specific purpose.
"[We] went throughout the whole year and showed why you win games and why you lose games," Shanahan said. "A number of clips came up in the Super Bowl and those are a lot harder to watch because everyone knows how that ended, but there are some good ones and bad ones on both ways that went throughout the year. We were pretty good in those situations throughout the year, but in the three games that we lost, you can see we didn't make those plays."
Making plays when it matters most has become the Niners' primary focus heading into the season. As defensive end Dee Ford explains it, that means obsessing over the details. In his case, that means working to get off the ball a fraction of a second quicker. The goal, he says, is to be 1 percent better every single day because it's not easy to top the team's impressive 2019 season.
Therein lies the other big challenge facing the Niners in their pursuit of a return to the Super Bowl: the weight of expectations. Coming off a 4-12 season in 2018, the Niners were the league's biggest surprise. They surged to a 13-3 record after an 8-0 start and rolled through the NFC playoffs before falling to the Chiefs.
This season, the Niners are nobody's underdog. Even though precedent might say the Niners are a long shot to get back to the Super Bowl, Las Vegas says otherwise. Caesars Sportsbook lists the 49ers as the favorites to repeat as NFC champions (+350) and with the third-best chance of winning Super Bowl LV (+750), trailing only Kansas City and the Baltimore Ravens.
If the 49ers are going to deliver on those lofty forecasts, the game they simultaneously want to forget and remember will be a motivating force.
"Football is a game that gives you a lot of scars, 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," offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "And I think that's the message that this team felt since the night of February 2nd. And I'm excited because that feeling is still there. I think it's a good thing that it bothers people when that still comes on, because it's just that much more of a driving factor to get back there and then ultimately finish the job."