23 May 2013
On Tuesday, the NFL awarded Super Bowl L to Santa Clara, site of the 49ers' new stadium. My first reaction was, "Man, it's a shame they dragged their feet long enough to lose out on their birthright, Super Bowl XLIX." After that brief numerological interlude, my second reaction was, "Hey, the 49ers got the nod after just having played in the Super Bowl. How many times has that happened?" It's common knowledge that no Super Bowl team has had a true home game, with the 1979 Rams and (coincidentally) the 1984 49ers coming close. Some might even know the further detail that teams have fared horribly when they had the potential to play the Super Bowl at home.
As far as I can tell, though, no one's looked into teams (a la the current 49ers) that were awarded a Super Bowl hosting gig coming off a Super Bowl appearance. Similarly, no one's looked at how teams have fared the season after being awarded a Super Bowl (e.g., what the 2008 Colts did after being awarded Super Bowl XLVII in May 2008).
It turns out that the 49ers (via Santa Clara) are the first team in 28 years to be awarded a Super Bowl after having played in the one preceding the owners' hosting decision. In another series of 49ers-related coincidences, the last time it happened was when, in March 1985, the owners chose Miami as host of Super Bowl XXIII after the Dolphins had just lost Super Bowl XIX to San Francisco (at the 49ers' "home" in Palo Alto). And which team won the Lombardi trophy in Miami four years later? The 49ers, of course.
So the last two times a team was dubbed "host," they were the reigning Super Bowl loser. The only other time this phenomenon occurred, however, it involved a team coming off a Super Bowl win: The 1972 Dolphins finished a perfect season in January 1973, and the owners awarded Super Bowl X to Miami three months later.
If we expand the definition to give credit to the two Los Angeles teams for Super Bowls in Pasadena (only 14 miles from the Coliseum) and San Francisco for the one in Palo Alto (only 30 miles from Candlestick), then the total grows to five. (This isn't so outlandish. The Dolphins' home field is 15 miles from my apartment in the actual "City of Miami.") Pasadena was awarded Super Bowl XXI in May 1984 after beating the Washington Redskins in January 1984. Meanwhile, in what is now bordering on a trend, the 49ers were the reigning Super Bowl XVI champions when Palo Alto's hosting bid won out in December 1982.
What about teams that played in the big game immediately after their city won a hosting bid? Again using my liberal definition, it's only occurred three times in Super Bowl history. The most-recent instance actually was only four years ago, when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in January 2010 (in -- wait for it -- Miami) after the owners' May 2009 selection of New Orleans as host of Super Bowl XLVII (lost by -- wait for it -- San Francisco). Before the 2009 Saints, you have to go back 30 years for a previous occurrence. Pasadena won its bid for Super Bowl XVII in March 1979, and the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super XIV 10 months later (also in -- wait for it -- Pasadena).
The earliest occurrence of a team winning the Super Bowl and then getting awarded a future Super Bowl within a year also happens to involve one of the seven teams to repeat as champs. If my foreshadowing worked, its identity should be pretty obvious. As mentioned earlier, the 1972 Dolphins won Super Bowl VI three months before Miami won its April 1973 bid for Super Bowl X. Nine months later, they also won Super Bowl VII.
Now, I'm fully aware that the repeated appearances of Miami and Los Angeles/Pasadena (and even New Orleans) are closely related to the fact that they've been a major part of the historical Super Bowl rotation, including almost exclusive hosting rights in the 1970s. Nevertheless, two things. First, it just makes the 49ers' fingerprints all over this piece that much eerier (i.e., the Bay area has not been in the rotation over the years, by any stretch of the imagination). Second, even with the highly skewed frequency of Super Bowl host cities, there's still this seemingly random result: Super Bowl hosts have posted a record of 405-406-9 the season before they won their bid, and have posted a record of 383-386-4 the season after they won their bid.
Of course, all of this is just a fun, trivia-related way of saying that, if there's a Super Bowl curse involving host cities, it's about the potential for athletes winning a ring at home, not about executives winning a bid at an owners meeting.
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Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.