Losing in the Super Bowl haunts some players
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The pain of losing a Super Bowl never really disappears. It drives players who have experienced it to get back and get it right.
Ricky Proehl has been to four Super Bowls as a player, going 2-2. He won and lost with the Rams, lost with the Panthers, and got the second ring in his final NFL season, 2006 with Indianapolis.
He's at the big game again as Carolina's wide receivers coach, buoyed by memories of earning those rings, haunted by remembrances of the two failures.
''Anger, disbelief, shock,'' Proehl said Wednesday of his reactions to walking off the field a Super Bowl loser.
''And then they rush you off like it's a cattle drive so they can set up a stage for the winning team. You sometimes don't even get a chance to congratulate the winners.
Proehl has relayed those sentiments to some Panthers, emphasizing just how good the opposite feelings are.
''You are on top of the world, on top of your profession,'' said the former receiver who played for six teams in a 17-year career, the first nine of which he didn't reach the postseason.
''You start out with a common goal and you're going with guys to attain a dream, and then you are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Everyone in this league should be able to feel that feeling with their teammates.''
But only four players who will suit up Sunday have had that joy, just one current Bronco: Peyton Manning with the Colts.
Carolina's Michael Oher and Ed Dickson earned rings with Baltimore, Roman Harper with New Orleans.
And the guys who have fallen short, including Manning, have used that letdown as motivation.
''We got beat by a hot team and a better team that night,'' he said of the 43-8 whipping Seattle put on Denver two years ago. ''It was disappointing. It was a tough pill to swallow.''
It's a pill still stuck in the craw of Super Bowl losers. And it doesn't matter if the result was lopsided or down to the wire.
Antonio Smith, a 12-year veteran, has reached his second title game. He was with Arizona when it lost to Pittsburgh in the final minute in 2009.
The defensive end, in his first season with Denver, has a memento from that season that reminds him why he strives each day to go one step beyond.
''Every time I look at the NFC championship ring, that's what I think: I left that field a loser,'' Smith said Wednesday morning just before learning his father had passed away after recently undergoing heart surgery. ''So I have been focusing in on what I need to do here for me to walk off with a better result.
''I love this game of football, I love putting it on the line every week. But in the end, you're doing it to have the opportunity to be called champion.''
Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders joined the Steelers two years after that thrilling victory. Against Green Bay in 2011, he felt the sting of defeat as a rookie.
Five seasons later, as Sanders has developed into a top receiver, he still shudders when thinking about coming up short.
''I've been here and I have a loss,'' said Sanders, who has become one of Manning's go-to guys. ''I can't suffer that again?''
''Yeah, man,'' Sanders added, the smile disappearing from his face. ''Does it ever hurt.''
And there's no way of ever easing the hurt unless you return to the Super Bowl and pull off the victory.
Asked how he thought the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s must have felt when they fell four straight times in the Super Bowl, Sanders simply shook his head.
Proehl sees little to no difference in working the sideline or being in the coaches' box as opposed to performing on the field in the championship game.
Coaches go through the same kind of preparation and routine as the players. They carry a similar burden, and experience the same kind of exhilaration or dejection.
''You know, it takes a special group, and not just guys with talent,'' he said. ''It takes a selflessness. Every Super Bowl team I have been a part of has had that.
''You want it for them.''
Yet, Proehl can find some positive out of not winning that final game on the schedule.
''It's such a blessing to play in this game,'' he said. ''I would rather be in it and lose than never get there.''
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