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49ers' memories of Super Bowl loss to Chiefs still linger with them

LAS VEGAS — It takes no time for San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead to recite his most vivid memory from the last time he played in a Super Bowl.

"Third-and-15 to Tyreek Hill, down the field," Armstead said. "It changed the game."

The memories of the Super Bowl LIV loss have come back for some members of the 49ers in the past week for a couple reasons. For one, they're back in a Super Bowl again. Second, it's against the same Kansas City Chiefs franchise that beat them four years ago.

The 49ers led 20-10 in the fourth quarter. The lead and those championship dreams vanished quickly, starting with that third-and-15 play Armstead remembers so well. Hill got loose for a 44-yard gain. The comeback started. "Jet Chip Wasp" was the play-call and it became part of Kansas City lore. The Chiefs went on to win 31-20.

The 49ers have nine players still on the roster who played in that game. It's not like you can forget a loss like that.

"The pain you feel when you lose a Super Bowl is unmatched," 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said at Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday.

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The 49ers who remain hope for better memories from this trip to the Super Bowl.

Loss to Chiefs lingered for 49ers

Tight end George Kittle is one of the players who was in that Super Bowl and is back for another with the 49ers. On Monday night he was surprisingly mellow when recalling that game. He wasn't so measured in the moment.

Kittle was mic'ed up for that game and at the end, he was talking to himself about how he'd be back with a "f***ing vengeance."

He is back, and if he has vengeance on his mind he hid it well.

"Right afterwards, it was inspirational, definitely like, 'I was that close, how do I work harder for it to go differently?'" Kittle said. "Now, I don't really think about it. It was an opportunity I had. It was a lesson I learned. You learn from everything, win or loss. So it's like, well, I wanted it, I didn't get it, let's go back and try it again."

Even if the feelings have faded a bit over four years, it took a while. Juszczyk said he didn't watch the Super Bowl for six months afterward. Deebo Samuel said it took a year and a half.

"It's been driving me ever since," Samuel said. "Making the Super Bowl my rookie year, I just thought it was going to keep happening and keep happening. In reality, that's not how it works."

The 49ers didn't take that long to get back. Four years between Super Bowl appearances isn't too bad. But for those who had the experience of blowing the last Super Bowl in the last few minutes, it might have felt longer.

49ers recall Chiefs' comeback

The way the 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV was painful. That Hill catch happened with just over seven minutes left and San Francisco leading by 10 points. The 49ers still led 20-17 with a little more than six minutes left. Then it all fell apart.

"I think it will never leave you, especially how we lost," Armstead said. "You're always going to look back like, man, that's one we could have got."

That was perhaps the toughest part. When you're that close and it doesn't happen, it stings more.

"When you come this close, up 10 points with six minutes to go and you feel like that's about to happen and it gets ripped away from you, it's hard," Juszczyk said. "It was really, really hard."

George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers leaves the field after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers leaves the field after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) (Maddie Meyer via Getty Images)

Juszczyk said he thought about losing the Super Bowl every day for a year. Linebacker Fred Warner said the loss "stays with you forever," and took an important lesson from that loss.

"The biggest lesson was you have to play a full four quarters. All the way until the clock hits zero," Warner said. "It's something simple, probably a little corny to say but it's true. That's how we lost the last time. Guys kind of settled a little bit in that fourth quarter thinking we had them, then they came back in a big way."

It's not like the experience was horrible. It's still special to play in a Super Bowl. Juszczyk said he fondly remembers scoring a touchdown, with his family in the stands behind the end zone in which he scored.

It's just that losing a Super Bowl isn't how they want the story to end.

"It becomes such a motivating factor. It drives you forever after that," Juszczyk said. "For four years, it's something that has helped drive me."