Cris Collinsworth knows how tough it is for teams to come back strong the season after losing the Super Bowl.
The former Cincinnati Bengals receiver experienced it twice.
The 1981 and ’88 Bengals fell short in the Super Bowl – each time to San Francisco – by a total of nine points.
“I lost two Super Bowls, so I understand full well how hard it is emotionally to get back to that point where you go, ‘All I want to do is get back to the Super Bowl and have another shot,’” Collinsworth said. “But you have to go to training camp and you have to do all the hard work. And then you have to go through the preseason. And then you have to win games.”
That post-Super Bowl slog has proven difficult.
It has been 23 years since the losing team in the Super Bowl played in the game the following season, dating to Buffalo’s Super Bowl appearance after the 1993 season.
The past seven Super Bowl losers made it back to the postseason the next season, but none advanced to the Super Bowl.
Only two teams have come back to win the Lombardi Trophy a year after losing the Super Bowl – the 1971 Cowboys and the 1972 Dolphins.
So history says don’t bet on the Panthers celebrating in Houston in February after winning Super Bowl 51.
Collinsworth is the color analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football crew that will call next week’s Super Bowl 50 rematch between Carolina and Denver. He’s interested to see how the Panthers respond in their first real game since the 24-10 loss to the Broncos in Santa Clara, Calif.
“This is a story of a team that everybody just assumed was the best team in football. Everybody probably had them ranked as the No. 1 team in football. They were heavy favorites in the Super Bowl and came up short. Now we’ve got to see how they bounce back,” Collinsworth said.
“You just want to go back to that championship game and start again. But you’ve got to be willing to go through the grind of getting there, and that’s where they are right now.”
Nobody understands that grind better than former Buffalo coach Marv Levy. The Bills were the AFC champions four years in a row from 1990-93, but never won a Super Bowl.
Levy used to tell his players they needed good PR skills, as in persistence and resilience.
Both of those traits would be tested through four years of Super Bowl heartbreak, including Scott Norwood’s missed 47-yard field goal try against the Giants at the end of Super Bowl XXV on Jan. 27, 1991.
As tough as it was to regroup after each of those losses, Levy said his teams never packed it in the next year. Levy said having leaders like quarterback Jim Kelly and center Kent Hull helped.
“They were one tough group of guys,” Levy said. “They’d go back to work – and go back to work hard.”