Is it better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all? It’s a question that has spanned the ages.
With Super Bowl XLVII being played Sunday in New Orleans and the Baltimore Ravens beating the San Francisco 49ers, let’s put that question into NFL terms:
Is it better to have played in a Super Bowl and lost than not to have played in it at all? Better yet, is the sting of getting there and not getting it done worse than the hollow feeling of never having the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as NFL champion by playing on one of the grandest stages of all?
Former Vanderbilt defensive end star Dennis Harrison played for the Philadelphia Eagles in their Super Bowl XV loss to the Oakland Raiders.
“I was thinking just the other day about how blessed I was to have just gotten there and experienced it,” the 10-year NFL veteran said. “Just think of how many great athletes who played the game and never got there. Darn right, it was a great opportunity just to have played in the game.”
Harrison admits replaying the game over and over in his mind, especially this year with the Super Bowl back in New Orleans, where it was staged when he played in it in 1980.
“My appreciation of playing in the game gets bigger when you have more time to reflect,” he said. “I say, ‘Wow, I played in the Super Bowl. All the world was watching.’ Not a lot of people can say that.”
Count former MTSU and 13-year NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb in that group.
“It would have been a really cool deal to go and play in the Super Bowl, even if you didn’t win,” he said. “At the end of the season, you are one of the two conference champions and the only two teams remaining.
“Buffalo went to the Super Bowl four times and lost every time, but they got there. That is quite an accomplishment.”
During his tenure with Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo and Minnesota, Holcomb’s teams only made the playoffs twice. That includes Holcomb passing for 429 yards and three touchdowns in a first-round loss by Cleveland to Pittsburgh.
“You always play games to win championships,” Holcomb said, “but I didn’t even sniff the Super Bowl. It would have been a pretty special deal to be able to go to the Super Bowl and experience everything that leads up to the game and then the game itself.”
While his NFL and college career recently earned induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, Holcomb admits that even though he didn’t win a ring, he is happy for former teammates like Peyton Manning and former coaches like Bruce Arians and Tom Moore who did.
“There are a lot of players like me who played in the NFL but never made the Super Bowl,” Holcomb said. “I am happy for my former teammates and coaches who did. I am sure they have very special memories.”
Former Tennessee Titans star offensive tackle Brad Hopkins also played 13 years in the NFL, but he got to play in the big game when the Titans lost to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV by notoriously coming up one yard short of a touchdown on the game’s final play.
“If you don’t go to the Super Bowl, that means there is one more team in your conference that is better than you,” said Hopkins, the former Pro Bowler and first-round draft pick of the then-Houston Oilers. “Regardless if we came up one yard short, we were still champions of the American Football Conference that year. In my mind, that means a lot.”
Hopkins admits that he has not watched a replay of the Super Bowl loss to the Rams, although the game is constantly called to his attention, especially since he and his family still reside in Nashville.
“Dealing with it realistically, maybe if we would have won, I would have probably watched the game by now, probably several times,” Hopkins said. “Maybe if I watched, it would be a reminder that we were not the champions.”
Hopkins recalls that he had a good game run and pass blocking primarily against former Rams star defensive end Grant Winstrom.
“There are so many individual responsibilities when it comes to a game,” Hopkins said. “I remember I had a tremendous game, but we didn’t win the game. That’s the bottom line for what counts.”
Greg Pogue is host of The First Quarter on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville. E-mail him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.
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