The Kansas City Chiefs make it look easy, but making it back to the Super Bowl is just as tough as getting there for the first time. Though they’re set to play in their fourth Super Bowl in five years on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers are making their first appearance since falling to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at the conclusion of the 2019 season.
It’s a Super Bowl rematch, featuring many of the same faces and storylines. But looking back to that game, it’s easy to wonder why it took so long for the rematch to happen. When the 49ers saw a 10-point fourth quarter lead evaporate in Miami that year, they and many others felt they were just entering their championship window with a young, exciting roster and coaching staff to match.
They’re still in that window, but they’ve ran into a lot of issues along the way, including a season in which they missed the playoffs entirely. The Chiefs, meanwhile, picked up another Super Bowl win in the ensuing time and are the defending champions. Both teams have seen a lot of success, but how much have they really changed since the first meeting?
The head coaches haven’t changed
Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid faced off in the first meeting, and the former is still trying to prove he can handle big games as well as the latter. Shanahan has a reputation for choking in the biggest of games, dating back to when the Falcons lost a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI while Shanahan was offensive coordinator.
The next day, Shanahan signed on to be the 49ers’ head coach, and it only took him a couple seasons to make it to the Super Bowl matchup with Reid and the Chiefs. But again, that game also saw Shanahan’s team give up a double-digit lead and solidified the “choker” label, and two subsequent NFC Championship losses haven’t helped.
While the head coaches remain the same, Shanahan and Reid’s staffs have seen some work. Over the years, the 49ers saw multiple coordinators and position coaches find their way into head coaching gigs — all of Mike McDaniel (then run-game coordinator, now head coach of the Dolphins), DeMeco Ryans (then inside linebackers coach, now head coach of the Texans), and Robert Saleh (then defensive coordinator, now head coach of the Jets) included.
On top of them, there’s guys like Mike LaFleur (passing game coordinator, now with the Rams) and Bobby Slowik (offensive assistant, now with the Texans) who were important to the 2019 49ers. The biggest names new to the 49ers’ staff are defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and assistant head coach/running backs coach Anthony Lynn, both of whom are former head coaches.
Then there is Reid, perhaps the most-respected coach in football coming off yet another season in which essentially everybody agrees he was excellent. Reid is fortunate to still have Steve Spagnuolo as his defensive coordinator, as the Chiefs have been dominant on that side of the ball all season long. That 2019 Super Bowl victory was during Spagnuolo’s first season in the role.
The biggest name no longer on the Chiefs is offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is currently looking for a new home after one season serving in the same role with the Commanders in 2023. All in all, the Chiefs have had remarkably little turnover on the coaching staff, which is just how Reid likes it.
These players are still around for the Chiefs:
DL Chris Jones
QB Patrick Mahomes
WR Mecole Hardman
TE Travis Kelce
TE Blake Bell
G Nick Allegretti
K Harrison Butker
LS James Winchester
Mahomes and Kelce are arguably the best players at their positions, and they’re still the foundation of one the league’s best offenses. Chris Jones is the only player returning on the defensive side of the ball, though again — he’s arguably the best at what he does.
The Chiefs rank second in the league in total defense, so turnover seems only to have helped them. A lot of new faces on both sides of the ball was good enough to win the title a year ago and could be again this time around.
And these are the guys remaining for the 49ers:
LB Fred Warner
LB Dre Greenlaw
DE Nick Bosa
DT Arik Armstead
DT Kevin Givens
WR Deebo Samuel
TE George Kittle
FB Kyle Juszczyk
P Mitch Wishnowsky
Bosa was a rookie and Warner was still coming into his own in 2019, but now the pair form the nucleus of the 49ers’ defense, along with both Greenlaw and Armstead, who were also on the team in 2019. On the offensive side of the ball, the trio of Samuel, Kittle, and Juszyczyk are hugely important pieces, but the 49ers have definitely improved their core with QB Brock Purdy, RB Christian McCaffrey, and WR Brandon Aiyuk.
Turnover hasn’t really been a problem for either team, with quality adds wherever players were lost (for the most part).
Finally, there are a couple players who switched from one team to the other since the 2019 meeting. Kick returner Richie James is now with Kansas City, and will start in the Super Bowl. On the other side, cornerback Charvarius Ward is starting for the 49ers and is one of their only consistent corners.