Some NFL teams get so close to the mountaintop before falling short they're unable to climb back to the peak.
The proverbial "Super Bowl hangover" has stunted promising teams in the past due to an array of reasons -- from defections, to tougher schedules, to coming off a longer campaign. Only eight teams in NFL history have returned to the Super Bowl the year after losing. The 2018 Super Bowl-losing L.A. Rams missed the playoffs completely last year.
The San Francisco 49ers believe they have the youth and drive to find traction as they scale back toward the mountaintop.
Star tight end George Kittle told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday that he expects a hungry squad when training camp opens later this month.
"The one thing I've just noticed in the offseason, from guys whether just talking to them or through our Zoom calls that we had during the OTAs-part of the offseason, just how hungry the guys are," Kittle said while speaking for Gatorade's 'Beat the Heat' program. "I think everyone understands that hey, yeah, we were close, but obviously we weren't good enough to get the job done. What didn't we do well?
"So I think guys are really focused on that. Guys really hit the ground running this offseason. They've been training really hard, they've been getting their routes in and catching. We had a couple days where we were able to see some guys in Nashville. I was proud just to see the guys, how they were moving, how they're catching the ball. You know, we have a young team, we really do, especially after Joe Staley retired. But we have a mature team which is what I really love. I think these guys, our team has their head on straight. They're just really looking forward to playing football again."
After an offseason dismantled by COVID-19, the 49ers' quest for a Super Bowl return will look a lot different than any in past seasons.
Kittle said he's looking forward to seeing his teammates again, assuming safety measures can ensure all players and staffs remains as healthy as possible during the season.
"Oh my goodness, I think everybody in the NFL is itching to go play football," Kittle said. "Especially because we didn't have OTAs, you don't have that being in the locker room with all your teammates. For me personally, what I think about is the player safety. I think as long as the player safety is at the top of everyone's board, then I'm looking forward to playing football. There are definitely a lot of questions cause this is something no one's ever dealt with before...
"So I think if the protocols can be met and you can stay safe, then I'm looking forward to it. At the end of the day, social distancing's hard when you're in a huddle and when you're trying to block guys. Like I said, there's a lot of variables, I think a lot of things are going to change, it's going to be a fluid protocol. But as long as the health and safety of players stays at the top of the list for everybody, then I'll be looking forward to playing football."
Kittle, who enters the last year of his contract, dismissed questions about his future deal by noting it's his agent's job to take those questions. Unlike teammate Raheem Mostert, who requested a trade, it doesn't sound like Kittle has any plans for extreme measures as he presses toward what should be a position-setting deal.