NEW ORLEANS — Hey, did you hear about the Brothers Harbaugh? What about Ray Lewis? Can I interest you in a story about Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick? Super Bowl 47 has its share of story lines, some of which are, well, a bit played out.
But there also are some other story lines to consider for Sunday’s game. Yes, we’ll touch on Jim and John, and Ray and the quarterbacks, too. It’s all in this Super Bowl 12-pack that will get you ready for the game between the Ravens and 49ers:
1. Without question the story line that has the most to do with the game itself and these teams actually getting here is both Harbaugh coaches making crucial and bold decisions midseason (and quite late in the season, too). You know the ones: Kaepernick in, Alex Smith out; Cam Cameron getting fired, replaced by Jim Caldwell. We’ve seen teams get hot in the postseason after coming in cold. The Ravens are a good example of that. We’ve seen teams change identity subtly late in the year; you can point to the 49ers and their expanded read-option attack. Jim on his controversial move: “I thought it was a unique situation. Viewed it that way when it happened. My experience had always been that when it comes to playing the best quarterback, or playing the quarterback with the hot hand, it was choosing between two guys that were struggling, at least in my own personal experience. That was far from the case that we were looking at at the time. Two quarterbacks that were playing extremely well. Made the decision that we thought was best for our team.” John on his move: “Coach Cameron, who is a good friend, he has a great relationship with everyone on this team and he’s a big part of our success as far as what we’ve built here. … He laid the foundation for what we’re going through right now. We made the decision for whatever the reasons were. But I don’t think that lessens his contributions to this team.”
2. The Super Bowl is one big sideshow. Anyone who has been to one will tell you it’s as much about the lead-up to the game, and the riff-raff surrounding the event, as it is about the game itself. But the 49ers are saying this is a business trip. That according to Randy Moss. Yes, Moss. He delivered a speech to his teammates last week explaining the nature of this trip: all business (I know, right?). “He explained to us that this is all business,” 49ers OG Alex Boone said. “He’s a veteran, and I appreciate it. The guys listened.” The 49ers’ team hotel is about a frisbee’s throw from the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. But it would be an upset, per OT Joe Staley, to see any guys stray and get in trouble. “We know we are not down here to have a good time,” he said. “We are down here for a business trip and to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. We are going to prepare and make sure no (stone) is unturned. I do not think (distraction) is going to be an issue with our football team.” Added Jim: “We trust our team.”
3. This is Ed Reed’s town. He’s at home in New Orleans. Reed said he would get his oysters at Drago’s this week and he has been shooing away the ticket seekers coming out of the woodwork. But, still, he’s on Cloud Nine, really. Reed has been the secondary show to Lewis in the lead-up, but his contributions to the Ravens’ franchise over the years have been just as significant in their own right. Reed did clarify comments made last week about definitely playing next season, softening on that stance and at least leaving the door open for retirement and talking openly about his physical struggles the past few years with an impinged nerve in his back and a torn labrum, both of which require a taxing physical rehab schedule and a personal doctor who is being paid directly out of Reed’s pocket. But don’t question his focus for Sunday: Reed is all in. He has played well in the playoffs, has played every game this season and knows he and the Ravens have a tough chore with the unique offense the 49ers present. “It’s night and day, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick,” he said, explaining that whatever the Ravens did in the AFC championship was already out the window. A new challenge is before them.
4. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith was asked, oh, about 13 times what was with his five-game sack-less streak. Jim Harbaugh was asked about it, too. Smith brushed it off and explained he’s been facing “double (teams) and triples” in recent games and how he has contributed with an interception, a fumble recovery (a game-changing one against the Falcons) and in funneling plays to other defenders. Harbaugh also said that Justin Smith’s injury was a factor; Aldon, in fact, has not collected a sack since Justin suffered his triceps injury against the Patriots in Week 15. This is a huge factor. The 49ers need to get their pass-rushing mojo back. It heated up ever so slightly against the Falcons in the NFC title game but never got to Matt Ryan, who put up big numbers. The Ravens love to throw deep and call seven-step drops for Joe Flacco, and if he gets time to throw deep he has shown in the playoffs, he can be deadly at it. “They’re impressive,” Flacco said of the 49ers’ defense. “We played them last year and they’re a physical team. It was a really physical game last year when we played against them at our place and I expect more of the same. They can do a lot of things well and we’re going to have to play good together as a unit in order to get the job done.”
5. Lewis is back on the field for these Ravens, and he’s the talk of the town. “Ray is a great player,” 49ers RB Frank Gore said. “He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s the best at the business. I love him. He’s like a brother (to me). We come from the same school (Miami).” But Aldon Smith brought up a good point: Check out the LB talent in this game – not just Lewis. “You could say (that) it’s the linebacker bowl, right? There are a lot of guys that can play,” Smith said. “You have Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, me, Ray Lewis, (and) Terrell Suggs. There’s going to be a lot of talent out there. That’s where we are.” And don’t forget the underrated guys such as Brooks (49ers) and Dannell Ellerbe (Ravens). Don’t be surprised if one of those players ends up being a surprise factor.
6. The 49ers have been asked a lot about their history – namely putting a 5-0 Super Bowl mark on the line on Sunday. It will be a continued story all week, and it will be interesting to see how the players and coaches respond to the myriad questions about it. “There is a great 49ers history with our team, and we’re proud of that,” Jim Harbaugh said. “As far as working during the week – meetings, practices and that – will be our focus each day.” Said 49ers FB Bruce Miller, a Falcons fan growing up: “It’s huge and you get the feeling when you’re walking around in the city and fans come up to you and they’re so excited. They want us to bring this winning tradition back to San Francisco. It’s exciting, and we want to do that for them.” Will it cause undue pressure? “Thanks for putting more on our shoulders,” Boone said jokingly. At least, it appeared he was joking. That’s quite a legacy to live up to.
7. Flacco has been great in the postseason. Maybe people aren’t realizing just how great. Eight TDs, no INTs. Fifth and sixth road playoff wins, surpassing Eli Manning for the most ever. And it’s not just this year, either: He has at least one victory in each of his first five seasons. A win Sunday would tie Tom Brady for the most playoff victories with nine by a quarterback in his first five seasons. And despite all the talk that Flacco really hasn’t played well until the postseason, it’s hogwash. He has had the best statistical season of his career with 3,817 passing yards and a 22-10 TD-INT ratio. “We’ve played against a lot of great quarterbacks throughout the years, (especially) these past two years being under Coach (Jim) Harbaugh, but this guy here, he’s a great quarterback as well,” 49ers CB Tarell Brown said.
8. Both Harbaughs were loosey-goosey on Monday. Jim, asked about whether he is as motivated by his critics as a coach as he was as a player, simply said: “Possibly,” followed by a strange smirk. He talked about his kids playing football, unafraid of the long-term health concerns. John started out his first press conference with a statement that says it all: “This is pretty cool,” he said looking around the room with a big smile. He talked about youth hockey, the rivalry with his brother and seemed to embrace the questions. Really, both guys have so far. They are doing a joint press conference Friday – the first time that has happened. The parents are doing one, too, on Wednesday. Instead of rolling their eyes at the barrage of familial questions, they are basking in it. They truly are embracing the family motto: “Who has it better than us? Noooo-body!” It’s fun to watch, not hokey or contrived. That’s a great thing.
9. Kaepernick was pretty buttoned up in his first media session, with his average response being about 14 words. He says what he means – nothing more, nothing less. And yet the guy is an absolute phenomenon. Kaepernick is such a fascinating story, not only with his lack of experience or his unique style but also his interesting persona. To boot, there is a massive photo of Kaepernick hanging on the team’s hotel garage. What a story. “It’s amazing. He was the backup quarterback a couple of months ago. Now he is the guy that’s going up on the walls in stadiums,” 49ers C Jonathan Goodwin. “Hat’s off to him. In the two seasons I’ve been in San Francisco, he’s been a hard worker. He’s a guy that just about every morning when I pull up to the facilities he’s already out on the field doing extra stuff. He works his tail off and he deserves every bit of success.”
10. Don’t forget about Gore and Ray Rice. Or LaMichael James and Bernard Pierce, their rookie backups who have stepped up in the postseason. These are two, physical, downhill-running teams who love to grind it. They crave ugly. That’s the style that has gotten each team here. 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman on Rice: “He’s their go-to guy. They get the ball to him just the same amount as they get their receivers the ball. In the passing games, he’s a threat just as well in the running game. We’re going to have to be on our ‘A game’ and be prepared for Ray also.” And Gore on having James at the ready: “It keeps me fresh. I love it. Earlier, in my career, I probably wouldn’t like it, but now, getting ready for the fourth quarter and the defense is probably wearing down and I’m fresh; and I get going.”
11. Stories of Alex Smith wanting his outright release following the season already have leaked out, but the 49ers are going out of their way to make sure to note that he has been a great teammate since he was benched and that he has been anything but a distraction in the 49ers’ quest to win a title. “That could have gone sideways in a hurry, absolutely,” Boone said. “I think a lot of people forget how great of a teammate that is. I applaud him every day for making Colin (Kaepernick) better and teaching him and still practicing as hard as he does. That’s a tough situation. I love Alex to death. He’s like a brother to me. He handled it well.”
12. The Ravens got a glorious sendoff from their fans in Baltimore on a dreary day Monday in the city’s Inner Harbor, and John Harbaugh raved about the reception the team got. Maybe that’s why he was so chummy when he met with the media a few hours later. The Ravens’ fans’ presence has been felt so far in New Orleans, and Lewis and Reed led the way. Reed led the crowd in a “Two Tickets to Paradise” chant, perhaps mocking the ubiquitous Eddie Money commercials on TV these days. And Lewis brought the house down when he said, "We're not going to New Orleans for nothing else but to bring a ring back to Baltimore." We’ll see if Lewis can make good on his promise and finish his career in storybook fashion.
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