ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When you win a Super Bowl, in between all of the confetti, a guy’s trip to Disney World and the usual you're-the-best celebrations that follow, there is always talk of the Super Bowl hangover.
That catch-all classification for all of the back-slapping, pursuit of endorsements and the threat of feel-good complacency arriving with what’s been done.
Something Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll addressed almost as soon as he was handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy, even offering at the team’s victory parade, “We’ll take this in stride.’’
But then there is also what the Broncos now face, what most of those who have lost the NFL’s title game have felt in the decades before this loss -- especially those who picked the worst time to have their worst game of the season, as the Broncos did.
The fact is, there is no silver medal in the league. And in terms of public perception and the empty feeling that comes with a loss in the season's final game, you don’t really finish second when you lose a Super Bowl. To some, because the title game loss comes with no consolation prize, you fall to the end of the line.
That all of that came before the Super Bowl added up to nothing. And that perception, that feeling, can often be as difficult to wrestle with as the comforts that come with victory.
And Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway started that process this week as well. As Elway put earlier this week at the team’s season-ending gathering:
“And I’ll say one thing -- I kind of get the sense that these questions are about ‘How the hell are we going to overcome this?’ … But I will tell you this right now, the focus is on what happened instead of how we got there and what we did this year, what we went through as a team. But I say that the farther you get away from this, the less you concentrate on just that one game, the more you recognize the whole season and really what we did as a football team and really as an organization. And I’ll tell you what, I’m very proud of that.
"There are some changes we’ve got to make and we’ll make those. But the thing is, we can use that as a game that, ‘OK, we now know what it’s like to be there, now we’re going to use that as the experience of we’ve been there but we’ve got to start with step one again and start with the offseason program.'’’
Elway also added: “The goal has not changed and it will not change. We will use this as an experience that we went through, be disappointed that we didn’t play better, but the bottom line is this organization and what [owner] Pat Bowlen wants from this organization -- that has not changed and it will not change. The bottom line is we’re going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder, and continue to do that with the mindset that we want to be world champions and we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”
The Broncos dug out from a crushing double-overtime playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens just over a year ago to finish 13-3, set a pile of offensive records and earn a spot in the Super Bowl.
They didn’t make the most of it, a shocking cave-in for a team that had framed itself as a calloused group comfortable in handling all forms of adversity just before not answering any it faced this past Sunday night.
So, while the Seahawks’ youthful roster will wrestle with all of the trappings that come with a championship, the Broncos will wrestle their own football demons -- the ones that come with the second-place finish, and that, in the Super Bowl era, can be far more trying. Just look at what history already has to offer: eight times a team has been a back-to-back Super Bowl champion -- the Pittsburgh Steelers have pulled off the double twice.
But just twice in Super Bowl history has a team that lost the Super Bowl gone on to win it the following year, and it hasn't happened since the Miami Dolphins lost the Super Bowl to close out the 1971 season and then rebounded to finish the 1972 season undefeated after a win in Super Bowl VII.
That’s a whole lot of Xs and Vs and Is ago.
So, there is the Broncos’ task. To pick up the pieces, to climb out from their shattered plans to see if they really are the kind of team to handle what has happened to them.
And that just might be the toughest road to the Super Bowl of all.