The Super Bowl curse is real.
In 52 years, only three teams have won the Super Bowl the year after losing in the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl curse is real … real funny, according to Rams coach Sean McVay.
“Look at last year,” he says.
Well, yes, last season the New England Patriots became the first team in 46 years to follow a Super Bowl loss with a victory — a 13-3 win over the Rams.
“Yep, you see?” McVay says.
OK, but how about how only eight teams in history have lost in the Super Bowl and even returned to the big game the following year? That’s eight out of 52.
And since 2000, eight of the 18 teams that have lost in the Super Bowl have failed to even make the playoffs the following year, finishing a combined 18 games under .500.
Is that real enough for you?
“I really haven’t looked too much into it,” McVay says, smiling now. “I just know that before us, the last team to lose it won the next year.”
He’s not biting. He’s not conceding. When it comes to Super Bowl curses, he’s implying that if the mighty Patriots can break it, so can the Rams, and you know what? Maybe he’s right. Maybe this smart and bonded and deep team is actually good enough to finish the job they nearly pulled off last February.
One more quarter. That’s all they had needed. Their Super Bowl loss came down to the fourth quarter, and though that scenario has demoralized some teams, it has seemingly energized this one.
Think about it. Listen to them. You hear any groaning? You sense any unrest?
Didn’t think so.
In the months since that long night in Atlanta, nobody has blamed anybody. Nobody ripped Jared Goff’s passes in a controversial magazine story. Nobody questioned McVay’s strategy on a national radio show. Nobody gave a red-carpet interview in which they wondered what the heck happened to Aaron Donald.
Everyone just went quietly, stealthily, furiously back to work in a fashion that reminds one of, well, the Patriots. Everyone has gone back to doing their job.
“Our team handled it the right way,” says McVay, using two of his favorite adages. “At the end of the day, we didn’t get it done, and we don’t shy away from that, but I loved the way we responded. There’s something powerful with the way the guys stayed connected, with feelings of appreciation and gratitude but also motivation from getting there and knowing what it feels like.”
One of the leading causes of the Super Bowl curse is injury, and the Rams cannot control that. Guess that’s why they call it a curse, and you might remember a few teams that suffered that fate the year after losing the Super Bowl.
In 1999, the Atlanta Falcons’ Jamal Anderson was lost for the season with an injured knee in Week 2, and the team finished 5-11.
In 2002, the St. Louis Rams’ Kurt Warner broke a finger on his throwing hand, played just seven games, recorded a career-low passer rating of 67.4, and the team went 7-9.
Then there’s the doozy of all cuts, in 2008, when the Patriots’ Tom Brady suffered a torn knee ligament in the first game. He missed the rest of the season while the Patriots, despite an 11-5 record, missed the playoffs.
The Rams need luck to avoid all that stuff. But they are deftly built to avoid the other stuff.
In 2003, Raiders coach Bill Callahan called his year-after-Super-Bowl squad, “The most dumbest team in America,” Rich Gannon injured his shoulder around midseason, and Oakland finished 4-12.
The Rams have developed a culture under the brainy McVay where they’re one of the smartest teams in football, and they got only smarter with the addition of safety Eric Weddle and the return of receiver Cooper Kupp.
“I think we’ve got the right guys that are essentially wired the right way,” says McVay, later adding two of his favorite adages, “We believe in being where your feet are planted … keeping the main thing the main thing.”
Then there was the curse that affected the 2005 Philadelphia Eagles, whose locker room was so mired in distraction, they kicked receiver Terrell Owens off the team for detrimental conduct and finished 6-10.
The Rams don’t have any similar divas because of an aura of humility that permeates the building, an attitude created by the only guy to criticize anybody at the Super Bowl.
Remember when McVay ripped himself?
“Offensively, I make no excuses for why I feel responsible for us not performing better,” he is still saying, and if your leader talks like that, how can anybody talk back?
The 2016 Carolina Panthers were Super cursed by their leader. After quarterback Cam Newton missed a game because of a concussion, he was benched at the start of another game for a dress code violation because he didn’t wear a tie on the team plane. He had no tie because he forgot to pack a collared shirt. He finished with a career-low quarterback rating of 75.8 and the team finished 6-10.
The Rams have leaders who don’t seem likely to stray. Goff has improved every year since high school, and is becoming so familiar with McVay’s offense he’s actually changing the Boy Wonder’s plays. Donald was voted by his NFL colleagues as the best player in the game, and he still never takes a play off.
“We’ve got the right leaders that influence the rest of the locker room,” McVay says.
While that locker room possesses the usual uncertainties, so much is already solid and settled, McVay plainly and quickly answers the most complicated of questions.
Are you better this year?
“I think so,” he says. “If we keep approaching it the right way, we have a lot of returning players, we have coaches working hard … what does this mean in terms of winning and losing games, I have no idea. But I do feel confident we’ll be a better football team this season.”
Yes, Goff needs to step up and take this team on his shoulders. Yet, despite the league-wide narrative he is a system quarterback, his personal history says those shoulders are now broad enough.
Certainly, Todd Gurley is no longer 100 percent Todd Gurley. But even an 80 percent Todd Gurley, handled carefully and with proper load management, should be good enough, particularly with speedy Darrell Henderson backing him up.
The rest of the skill guys — Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and the returning Kupp — form a receiving corps among the deepest in the league.
The offensive line, despite a couple of new faces, is still returning monster anchor tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein. The defensive line, despite the loss of Ndamukong Suh, still has the power of Donald and Michael Brockers.
Throw in a full season of linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., add the savvy of Clay Matthews and finish with accomplished defensive backs Weddle, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and John Johnson, and their mandate is obvious.
“For us, we just have be ourselves, don’t do anything more, don’t do anything less, we’re obviously good enough,” says Woods. “We obviously got there last year and played well enough, don’t need to do anything more, just be ourselves and play the game.”
Oh, yeah, and they also have arguably football’s best kicking tandem in kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker.
“We’ve got the right guys,” McVay says again, and it’s hard not to believe him.
There is one notable change in the Rams locker room this season. On the wall, McVay’s inspirational pyramid has been replaced by a compass containing cultural tenets like “We Not Me,” and “Relentless” and “Mentally Tough.’’
“This kind of represents how we stay the course for a 16-game season,” McVay explains. “A compass is kind of something we felt like was relevant, especially coming off a good season, but making sure we understand we have to produce in the present.”
Although the compass is not pointed in a specific direction, they hope it will eventually guide them southeast, to Florida, to Miami, to Feb. 2, 2020 — back to the Super Bowl, and far away from its curse.