George Foreman vs. Ron Lyle. Larry Holmes vs. Ken Norton. Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson.
Las Vegas has been the home of the greatest heavyweight title fights ever.
Add Sunday’s Super Bowl 58 – 49ers vs. Chiefs – to the list.
And add another 49ers heartbreak to a list that has simply become too long over the last 30 years.
It took five periods of football to determine a champion on Sunday, but Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes drove Kansas City 75 yards on 13 plays, taking up the final seven minutes of overtime in the process. He ultimately found wide receiver Mecole Hardman on a quick motion route to the flat for a walk-in touchdown and a 25-22 win, Kansas City’s second consecutive title, and third overall for Mahomes.
For the 49ers, the loss is the team’s third in the Super Bowl since its last win in 1995.
And while all three were close, this will prove to be the toughest one to swallow.
There wasn’t one singular moment that did the 49ers in on Sunday. Don’t let anyone tell you that kicker Jake Moody’s blocked extra point or Ray-Ray McCloud’s muffed punt was the sole reason the Niners lost that game.
No, those moments didn’t help, but the 49ers’ failure was a slow-burn affair. The table for failure was set after San Francisco dominated the first quarter of the game, and yet had no points to show for it.
Even after busting out a trick play for the ages in the second quarter – wide receiver Jauan Jennings threw a 21-yard double-pass touchdown to Christian McCaffrey – the Niners only went into the break with a 10-3 lead.
Yes, the two teams, like heavyweight fighters, were feeling each other out, but the Niners had opportunity after opportunity to land round-winning – perhaps title-winning – blows.
Again and again, they failed to take them.
In turn, they provided Mahomes, the man who will go down as the greatest quarterback of all time, opportunity after opportunity to take the game.
They didn’t put the champ on the mat for the full 10-second count, and he used every second of the bout to steal the decision at the end.
Now, to their credit, the 49ers’ defense and its outstanding defensive line forced Mahomes to use every trick he knew, to pull out every rabbit from his hat, to use up every ounce of magic he possesses.
And he did.
Of course, this being Las Vegas, a little luck was involved, too.
The Chiefs fumbled five times Sunday. The 49ers recovered just one of them, while the 49ers had two fumbles and both found their way into Kansas City’s hands.
The Magic Man, Mahomes, was on the Kansas City sideline and he had his arm around Lady Luck.
That’s a lot of cosmic forces. The Niners needed to counter it with real force.
And for a stretch, they did. Quarterback Brock Purdy took San Francisco down the field with a 75-yard drive to open the fourth quarter. That drive featured the 49ers uncharacteristically going for a fourth-down conversion at Kansas City’s 15-yard line, with George Kittle – catchless to that point in the game – picking up the 3 yards needed to move the chains.
Two plays later, Purdy found Jennings for a 10-yard touchdown.
Momentum had shifted the Niners way.
That feeling lasted for mere seconds.
Moody, who made three field goals in the game – two from beyond 50 yards – had the subsequent extra point blocked. Even after the teams traded field goals on the next two possessions, the blocked extra point proved to be another lifeline for Mahomes, who, of course, took it.
Mahomes drove the Chiefs 64 yards in 11 plays for a game-tying field goal with three seconds remaining in regulation. It happened so fast, it was hard to explain what went down.
The same could not be said for what happened in overtime.
The 49ers won the toss for the extra period, and elected to take the ball first – a puzzling move, considering that the new overtime rules allow both teams an opportunity to possess the ball. In theory, you’d want to play defense first and have the terms of your offensive possession dictated to you by the outcome.
Add it to the list of small things that added up to a big loss.
The Niners’ failure to score a touchdown on their overtime possession can be added to that list, too. The Niners pushed the ball all the way to the Kansas City 10-yard line on 13 plays, but only had three points to show for it.
Down by three, the Chiefs could play free: A field goal would extend the game; a touchdown would win the title.
That opportunity was too big for Mahomes – who had two key scrambles on the drive – not to take.
In Mahomes’ performance Sunday, we saw greatness. Again. It’s the same greatness that sunk the 49ers in Super Bowl 54; the same greatness that has produced three titles in five years, all coming well before Mahomes’ 30th birthday.
The star quarterback’s stats do not matter. He was battered, bruised, frustrated and stymied, but he found a way to come up big in the biggest moments.
The same cannot be said for the 49ers.
Purdy made some big-time plays, sure, but he was not great – not at the level of Mahomes, anyway.
Deebo Samuel, the 49ers’ offensive talisman, was anything but an impact player on Sunday. He caught three of his 11 targeted passes. Trent Williams, the best left tackle in the game, had two penalties and a handful of critical missed blocks. Niners defensive coordinator Steve Wilks made some baffling, over-aggressive third-down play calls late.
It was a comprehensive effort to lose this game for the 49ers, even though it was an effort that likely would have won a Super Bowl against any other opponent.
But this was a game required greatness to win. The 49ers demanded that of Mahomes, and he and the Chiefs demanded it of the Niners.
And while it was a game for the ages, ultimately, only one party delivered on Sunday.
For the Chiefs, the title will be accompanied by the well-earned status of a dynasty.
For the 49ers – the NFC’s best team for the last five years – this loss will leave them with only regret.
It’s a feeling that over the last three decades, this team – and its fans – have felt far too often.