While I would like to jump directly into my assessment of Super Bowl XLVII, I wanted to start this post out on a more personal note. I’m writing with a heavy heart right now, as I learned days ago that a great friend and beautiful person passed away in my home town of Toledo, OH. I just want to honor him for a moment by telling you what I’ve already learned from his death: don’t let your friends fade away. We all grow up and grow apart to a certain extent, but it’s important to make the effort. To reach out and keep close friends close, no matter the distance or years that may now separate us. Our friends and family, especially the ones who need our help the most, should not be pushed to the background of our lives no matter how naturally that seems to happen. I’ll miss you to the fullest extent dear friend, and hope that your energy finds a peaceful place to rest somewhere in our infinite cosmos.
So with that said, and no easy transition to make, let’s talk Super Bowl.
I’ve most definitely watched better Super Bowls, but I don’t think I can recall one as strange as this one. With a huge lead cum huge come back thanks to a power outage smack dab in the middle of the game, there assuredly has never been a Super Bowl quite like the one we witnessed a week ago. While everybody and their brother has an opinion on how the game will play out in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, nobody really had a clear grasp on how this one would play out. Most experts and laymen alike, not to mention the money movers in Las Vegas, had this a pretty even match-up, although some big money apparently moved in the direction of the Ravens toward the tail end of the week in Sin City.
It’s why how the game started was a surprise to me, and to most that I watched the game with as well. A Super Bowl party is a lot like the game itself. Everyone’s nervous, a little edgy, with too much excitement bottled up all week to relax and have a good time right out of the gate. You have to take a deep breath, drink a tall beer, crack those first couple of bags of chips, and then take in the action properly with everyone else in the room. The players, just like a fan settling in to his spot on the couch, certainly looked jittery, and the 49ers were especially uneasy at the beginning of the game. Sometimes this leads to a quick score by the other team, which the Ravens obliged the Niners with, but it usually doesn’t snowball into the kind of lead that Baltimore had built by half time.
The Ravens didn’t look particularly dominant to this writer at the onset, but the 49ers certainly played as poorly as they possibly could. Their usually stout defense was steadily pushed around by the Ravens offensive line, and their deft and skillful secondary fell asleep on a couple of plays that could have gotten them off the field on third down. The Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, looked unfazed by the pressure, and was bailed out on more than one occasion by the aforementioned sleepiness of the 49ers “D” and a couple of big plays by his talented receiving corps.
And speaking of those receivers, I still remain convinced that Anquan Boldin should have been the game’s MVP, regardless of his quarterback’s equally impressive effort or the big play-making that Jacoby Jones had a hand in (more on that later). Boldin caught the game’s first touchdown, made a series of drive-extending and eye-popping grabs, and without his 100 plus yards receiving and phenomenal play throughout, the Ravens would not have ended their night last Sunday as Super Bowl champions. Ray Lewis, even with god on his side, didn’t even play a factor in the game’s outcome, and Joe Flacco, riding the star power of the quarterback position, didn’t do as much as Q in the eyes of this writer. Boldin is among the strongest and most underrated at his position in all the league, and like former MVP wide receiver Hines Ward before him, did more than his team’s signal caller to secure victory on Super Bowl Sunday.
But back to the action...
By halftime, it looked like all was lost for the 49ers. They couldn’t cash in on the two drives they made deep into Baltimore territory, leading to a pair of field goals where touchdowns were necessary to keep them in the game. The murmurs around the room at my Super Bowl party were of the “here we go” and “at least we could’ve got a good game” variety. But then one Beyoncé Knowles took the stage for her halftime performance, and distracted us all from the rout that appeared to be on at the Superdome in New Orleans on Super Bowl Sunday.
Beyoncé took to a stage as luxuriant (and I assume expensive) as the world of entertainment allows, and like many a Super Bowl halftime performer, made us all forget for 15 minutes that we were, in fact, watching a football game. I was a bit confused at first by the colossal goblet lit up at the center of the field, but was more impressed by her talent and obvious, shall we say, assets, than anything else. She put on a high energy show that left many in awe both in the room with me that Sunday night and in the Twitter-verse, where her breathless, high-intensity workout disguised as musical performance was the topic of conversation up and down my feed. She seemed to soak up every bit of energy that the Superdome had to offer, and it turns out, she just may have.
Shortly after halftime and a 108 yard kick-off return for touchdown by the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones, the game looked to be all but over. With that touchdown the 49ers looked all but dead in the water. They were facing a third and long that looked like it was destined to end in another giving-over of the football to the Ravens when all of the sudden, the lights went out. After the game, I heard more than one talking head and bodiless radio voice claim that they were more than nervous when everything went black in the Superdome, convinced that in this post-9/11 America of ours, something terrible was about to happen. I didn’t think that, and nobody I was watching the game with thought that either. What everybody I was watching the game with started to talk about was that this little electrical SNAFU was exactly what the 49ers needed.
The longer the power outage lasted, the more uneasy you could see the once giddy Ravens’ sideline becoming. They knew what we all know, that the big “MO”, momentum, is as important to a football game and any sporting contest as the talent on the field or the game plans devised by the coaching staffs. This was the exact break that the 49ers needed. The long delay stole momentum away from the Ravens, giving the 49ers a chance to reset the game’s parameters. Remember, the 49ers overcame large deficits to beat several opponents this year, including the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game. It was too perfect a storm for the Niners not to mount a comeback.
And that’s exactly what they did. Though they did punt away the ball directly following a failed third down after the black out ended, that was their last miscue for the next 28 minutes of game time. They battled back, regained their confidence, and had the Ravens on the ropes. Baltimore did not score again until the fourth quarter. Momentum had shifted. The game had changed. The Super Bowl was all of the sudden up for grabs. A blow out had turned into a shoot out and the Niners all of the sudden seemed destined to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
For all the hype leading up to the game the preceding week–Ray Lewis and his deer sprayed last chance at a second championship, a showdown between two head coaches who just happened to come from the same vagina, a loud-mouthed Niner cornerback proving his ignorance in regards to sexual preference, a second-year signal caller covered in tattoos who runs as well as he throws getting an early chance at career-defining glory–all of that stuff was pushed aside because of a 30 plus minute power outage that had given us what might be the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history. For once, the hype didn’t live up to the actual product. This game was far better than any of us could have possibly imagined. But the drama simply wasn’t over.
After the Ravens stalled on a late drive that had it ended in a touchdown would have also ended the game, they instead kicked a field goal and gave the Niners one more chance at a game-winning drive. It all seemed preordained. The young Colin Kaepernick was going to lead his team down the field, punch in the final score, and make this the greatest Super Bowl that had ever been played. You could just feel it. And for a moment, that’s what happened. But then the 49ers actually got to the precipice of their championship, and the wheels fell off their victory train in the truest sense of the analogy.
On the brink of capping their amazing comeback, the Niners fell apart. In the shadow of their opponent's goal post, their play calling took a turn towards the mystifying (like forgetting how well their freaking quarterback can run), time management became a factor, the team looked rushed, and then of course, there was what looked like a holding penalty on Michael Crabtree on their last chance at victory in the right corner of the end zone. The way the game had been officiated all night (bumping and holding receivers was fair game throughout, hell, you could even shove a referee and get away with it) this wasn’t that big of a surprise, but upon further review, it sure did look like a blatant holding call. Maybe Crabtree wouldn’t have got to that ball anyway, but there is no “uncatchable” caveat for defensive holding the way there is for defensive pass interference.
The debate about whether the flag should have been thrown could go back and forth forever, but just think about this for a moment: how would this game be perceived if the flag is thrown, the Niners get four fresh chances at a TD, succeed, and win the game? I don’t have a vested interest in the winner either way, but I bet the NFL is glad things played out the way they did. If the call had been made, you would have the Ravens and every sporting cynic from New Orleans to North Baltimore out there griping about how something was amiss. The Ravens, a team clearly in control of the biggest game of the season, would have been derailed by a freak power outage, then a penalty on the final play. I’ve never, ever believed that a league has actually tried to manifest one outcome over the other in its championship game/series, but there would have been a lot of hot and bothered people yelping about just that had the Niners got that call and won the game.
But holding call or no, the Niners had their chances to seal the deal. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what is so incredible about this Super Bowl, and why power outage induced as it was, San Fran’s comeback will still loom large in the annals of Super Bowl history. Despite how bad they played in the first half, despite giving up a Jacoby Jones touchdown on the opening kick off of the second half, despite the heroic play of Baltimore’s receivers and the steady hand of Joe Flacco, the 49ers almost won the damn game. They should never have had that four-down chance from the Ravens’ seven yard line at the end, but they did, and they missed that chance.
For all the Super Bowl detractors that squirm out of the woodwork each year, denouncing the game as an ostentatious spectacle celebrating a knuckle-headed sport that is proving to be violent beyond already established assessments, the NFL’s championship game is still the best in sports. It is the iridescent peacock feather in the league’s shimmering, officially licensed, sideline cap. I’ve said it several times before in many previous posts, and it becomes more and more obvious each year: football is still king in American sports, with no indication that it will abdicate the throne any time soon. Last Sunday’s game proved why no matter the story lines, teams involved, or players on the field, the NFL’s crowning ceremony is always entertaining.
On occasion, it’s unforgettable.