NEW ORLEANS -- The Baltimore Ravens left home Monday to thousands of fans braving the ice and rain for a harbor sendoff rally, and landed in New Orleans with a relaxed vibe, ready to embrace Super Bowl XLVII.
Before even getting settled in their hotel, however, head coach John Harbaugh and selected players were individually asked about President Obama saying he would "have to think long and hard" before allowing a son of his to play football. In excerpts from an interview for an upcoming The New Republic issue, Obama said the game will probably need to change of time to reduce violence.
That brought a wide range of responses from the Ravens, whose relaxed mood tightened a bit when the national media - clamoring for interesting news early in Super Bowl week - asked virtually everyone available their opinion on the President's stance.
Harbaugh initially piggybacked on what his brother, Jim, said earlier in the day at the 49ers' press conferences, joking that it will be one less person for Jim Harbaugh's son to compete against. But John Harbaugh also doesn't want the importance of football in America's culture to get lost in the debate.
"Football's a great game. And everybody who's played the game know what a great game it is and what it provides young people and what it provided someone like me - an opportunity to grow as a person," he said. "It's challenging, it's tough, hard. There's no game like football. It's the type of sport that brings out the best in you. It kind of shows you who you are."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco acknowledged the importance of Obama's point while also stressing there are far different circumstances among the various levels of football.
"I think we all understand that it's probably not a safe sport but it's something that we choose to do," Flacco said. "When you talk about little kids doing it they're not having the collision that we're having at the NFL level. They're a bunch of 50-pound or 140-pound kids. I don't know how much damage they're actually doing to each other ."
Safety Ed Reed shares the back end of the Ravens' secondary with Bernard Pollard, who told CBSSports.com that he believes someone will inevitably die on the football field and that the NFL won't "be in existence" in 30 years. While Reed didn't take quite so serious a slant, he didn't hesitate in backing up President Obama's position.
"He's a sports man," Reed said. "I'm with President Obama because I have a son. If he wants to play, do you let him play or do you turn him away?
"It's something that needs to be worked out, and hopefully I can be one of those people to help work it out. There needs to be more done (about player safety)."
--Reed's excitement for the upcoming week couldn't be tempered for long. He is a St. Rose. La., native who attended his first Super Bowl at the Superdome, and now is preparing to play in his first one in the same stadium.
He took full advantage of the extra week between games to deal with ticket requests and accommodations in New Orleans, where some of the few available rooms are going for thousands of dollars per night.
"I'm still chopping things down," Reed said. "Honestly, I could fill the Superdome. But I'm grateful, I'd do it every year if I could.
"I just want to do this for the city. It's special, I'm speechless for it."
Reed grew up in St. Rose, a little more than 20 minutes from where Sunday's game will be played. They played football in the streets, "from mailbox to mailbox, from lamppost to lamp post, from car to car ... until one moved," he said. Reed then left Louisiana and became a star at the University of Miami.
"I preach to kids to go to a different state, go experience something different," he said.
--The New York Giants won last year's Super Bowl by winning six consecutive elimination games after sitting at 7-7 through 14 games. The Ravens didn't enjoy the same type of late run during the regular season, losing three of their four games entering the postseason.
During that time, however, is when Harbaugh made the gutsy call to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replace him with Jim Caldwell entering Week 15. And entering the playoffs, Caldwell switched three starting offensive line positions to compensate for the loss of left guard Jah Reid.
Baltimore has gone on to average 30 points during three playoff victories.
"You can't make the timing up," Harbaugh said. The timing has been amazing.
The reshuffled offensive line, with Michael Oher back at right tackle and Bryant McKinnie on the blind side, has provided improved protection. As a result, Flacco has been able to capitalize more effectively on his big arm in the vertical passing game.
Flacco has completed 51 of 93 passes for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in three playoff games - improving his completion percentage each week.
"It's still the same Joe Flacco," Harbaugh insisted. "He's an extension of who the Ravens are."
Said Lewis: "He's the kid with every skill, every tool physically. This year he took that extra step mentally."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just thought it was hilarious. I laughed so hard I was in tears. For him to play it the way he did is awesome." -Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on comedian Kenan Thompson's impersonation of him during a skit on "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend.