Jan 29, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Harbaugh brothers, and let’s call it Ravens 24, 49ers 21. Or Harbaugh brothers, and let’s say 49ers 27, Ravens 24.
There, I’ve spared you a vast majority of the cliché pieces that will spring up in the days leading up to that rather consequential football game they’ll play in New Orleans Sunday night.
Virtually all of them will mention the opposing coaches that just happen to be siblings. Just about all of them will include a pick, though let’s face it, none of us really know what’s going to happen. We’re just guessing.
The real fun of Super Bowl XLVII involves the stories of the men actually on the field who will decide this contest. And there are plenty to choose from.
Start, as you tend to, with the quarterbacks, from those powerhouses Delaware and Nevada. Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick are proof that you don’t need to be from a marquee setting (like Flacco), or look like a matinee idol (Kaepernick), to make it big.
Long in the shadow of guys like Brady and Manning and even Ben Roethlisberger in his own division, Flacco conquered all of them this season. Plucked off the bench in a bold mid-season gamble, Kaepernick passed and ran wild, and is a defensive coordinator’s game-plan nightmare.
Stories also abound in the long-overdue veterans getting their chance. For the Ravens, that means Matt Birk, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs getting a just reward for their long service to the league. For the Niners, it’s guys like Justin Smith, a standout for 12 seasons, entering the big stage for the first time. All are worth rooting for.
Also, we have two terrific running backs at the heart of this tale. Frank Gore is San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher, quite a feat for a franchise where Joe Perry and Roger Craig starred. Ray Rice, the pride of New Rochelle, might be Baltimore’s most pivotal offensive cog. Whichever of these backs fares better on Sunday is a good indicator of how the game might turn out.
Go to the receivers, and there’s tales on both ends. Baltimore’s Torrey Smith lost his brother in a car accident a day before the first win over New England in September. Jacoby Jones caught that long TD pass in the final seconds of regulation in the epic at Denver. Anquan Boldin is always big-time, and gets a second chance after nearly winning it all with Arizona four Super Bowls ago.
The Niners have Randy Moss, never a Super Bowl winner, in, of all things, a supporting role, and liking it, which has silenced his many critics. Michael Crabtree had to fight off sexual assault allegations (questioned, but not charged) just before the NFC title game. Vernon Davis is a match-up nightmare if Kapernick wants to throw to him a lot, as Atlanta found out.
Even on the lines, there’s star power, whether it’s Haloti Ngata and local rooting interest Arthur Jones (Union-Endicott and SU) for the Ravens or Joe Staley for the Niners. And yes, that’s Michael Oher at right tackle for Baltimore, the same guy they made that movie about. You know, The Blind Side, the one where Nick Saban acted.
This game holds a chance at redemption for so many. David Akers lost a Super Bowl with the Eagles in 2005 and gets a second chance. So does Moss, part of those undefeated Patriots denied by the Giants in 2008, and so does Ravens assistant Jim Caldwell, who was the head coach in Indianapolis when it lost to the Saints in the XLIV edition.
Yet all of them pale next to the story of Ray Lewis. Yes, you’re already tired of the narrative, the pre-game dances, the post-game preaching, the paeans to his leadership, but the dimensions of his story are unlike any in recent memory.
Twelve long years ago, when Baltimore won in its only Super Bowl appearance, Lewis was the game’s MVP and also the heart and soul of one of the greatest defenses the NFL has ever seen. He was also, to a large chunk of the public, a pariah.
The journey from that January night in 2000, when Lewis got caught up in an altercation outside a club in Atlanta that left two young men dead and was arraigned (and publicly convicted) on murder charges that were later dropped, to this moment of league-wide respect and reverence defies logic in so many ways.
Aside from the leadership role so often attributed to him, Lewis is praised by younger players because he can tell them, first-hand, what can happen when young men make bad decisions. It’s no accident that you rarely hear about off-the-field incidents with Ravens players. Chances are that Lewis has scared them straight.
Those long-ago moments, both good and bad, will echo when the Ravens and 49ers run out of that Superdome tunnel on Sunday, the hype over and the contest at hand. Great stories, beyond those coaches named John and Jim, abound, and one way or another, they will find completion on the biggest stage in American sports.