Sunday More Than Lewis, Harbaughs
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 20:02
Two brothers, separated in age by a mere 15 months, have dominated the headlines leading up to this Sunday’s Super Bowl, where the Jim Harbaugh-led San Francisco 49ers are set to face off against John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens. Much has been made of this “Harbaugh Bowl,” and it’s easy to see why — that the first brothers to ever coach in the NFL are meeting in the premier American sporting event is of course something of note. This brother-versus-brother storyline is no doubt intriguing, but the biggest storylines for this year’s big game are about much more than a little sibling rivalry: The 49ers and Ravens squaring off is about young guns and old veterans, comings and goings and, most importantly, redemption.
The Super Bowl XLVII matchup is a showcase in the contrasting styles of play that yield success in today’s NFL. San Francisco is headlined by the flashy, multifaceted quarterback play of Colin Kaepernick. The former University of Nevada star is now at the forefront of the barrage of quarterbacks challenging the NFL convention that a so-called “college offense,” one of dual-threat quarterback play and spread offense, can’t succeed in the NFL. In his first career playoff game earlier this postseason, Kaepernick racked up four total touchdowns to go with more than 400 yards of offense, a sensational performance that saw him set the NFL record for rushing yards in a single game for a quarterback, as well as the 49ers record for single game postseason rushing for any player, regardless of position. The electric Kaepernick is surrounded on offense by similarly dynamic weapons in Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree. On the other side of the ball, the young linebacker corps of Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks in 2012), Patrick Willis (120 tackles) and NaVorro Bowman (144 tackles) has laid waste to opposing offenses. San Francisco finds itself one win away from the Lombardi Trophy on the back of the extraordinary running and throwing duality of Kaepernick and their young studs on defense.
Baltimore, meanwhile, has made its mark these playoffs through much more traditional means: with a balanced attack on offense and no-nonsense play on defense. Its success in that system has been thanks in large part to the wily veterans that have been mainstays in the Baltimore lineup for, in some cases, more than a decade. On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Joe Flacco is having perhaps his finest season yet, adding onto a stellar regular season with eight postseason touchdowns. Always-dependable running back Ray Rice is putting the final touches on another workhorse campaign, and receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith have come up big time and time again this postseason, combining for five touchdowns. Defensively, the usual suspects are still there for Baltimore, with Terrell Suggs chipping in two sacks this postseason and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata anchoring the secondary and defensive line, respectively.
But for all those differences, all those discrepancies in recipes for success, both Harbaughs bring their teams to the Super Bowl with the same thing on their mind: redemption.
For San Francisco, it’s a chance to erase the agonizing memories of fumbling away the chance to reach the Super Bowl last year against the eventual champion New York Giants. For the Ravens, it’s the chance to forget the excruciating missed field goal that would have sent last year’s AFC conference championship game to overtime.
No one has redemption on their mind more than Ray Lewis, though; having already announced his plans to retire after the season, this is Lewis’ swan song. His on-field play has been sparkling throughout his 17-year NFL career — all of which he’s spent with the Ravens — including a Super Bowl victory and thirteen Pro Bowl selections. His off-field legacy, though, is far murkier, tarnished by his murder trial in 2000. Although he was never convicted on the murder charges, Lewis’ most vocal critics have not ceased to allege his involvement in the case. It’s safe to say, then, that Lewis would like nothing more than to go out with another Super Bowl triumph, confetti falling around him as he hoists the Lombardi Trophy towards the heavens and silences the critics — something far easier said than done for the most intimidating player of his generation.
The Harbaugh Bowl promises not to disappoint. It’s new school against old school. It’s Lewis’ final game, it’s Kaepernick’s breakout moment and, of course, it’s the ultimate settling of scores between brothers. In the end, though, I say it will be a kicker who decides the contest. A gutsy, grind-it-out game will culminate with a spectacular Kaepernick scramble on the final drive to set up David Akers, the ageless San Francisco kicker. Calmly nailing a game-winning field goal in the closing ticks of the game, Akers will finally capture that elusive Super Bowl ring, denying the embattled Lewis a storybook ending of his own.
My pick: 17-14, Niners.
Peter Barston is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. RAISING THE BAR appears every Friday.