I have watched a lot of ESPN this week. The network is loaded with former NFL players and coaches who are yakking about this week’s Super Bowl.
The most intriguing discussion so far has been one I watched with Brian Billick, the former Baltimore Ravens coach. He was their head man when they won the Super Bowl in 2000.
Back then, the Ravens referred to the Super Bowl as “Festivus Maximus”. Billick had refused to allow to let his team use the word “playoffs” during December. As a result, the players borrowed the term “Festivus” (with origins in the Seinfeld sitcom) to refer to them.
Billick was asked by his interrogator who he liked in the Big Game. His response was basically “pick ’em”. Despite his interviewer’s attempts to corner him into a choice, Billick held his ground.
I found this rather surprising since I figured the former Ravens coach would pick his former team. When does Jimmy Johnson, for instance, pick against the Cowboys?
What this told me was that Billick may be experiencing the same emotions I am as the game approaches. Like me, he may be thinking but not willing to publicly admit that the San Francisco 49ers are the better team.
Today the ESPN talking heads were marveling over the network’s interviews of current NFC players, all who are picking the AFC Champion Ravens. After some discussion, the pundits determined that their choice of Baltimore to win had to have something to do with the Ray Lewis factor.
Lewis is widely admired in the NFL and he has said that this is his “last ride”. An out-of-the blue and to me annoying claim this week that he may have used something called Deer Antlers, a banned substance, to aid his recovery from a torn triceps this season has done little to tarnish the man’s image as Sunday approaches.
Billick’s failure to choose a winner also may have something to do with this truth: the team’s are very evenly matched. Even Ravens coach John Harbaugh says his team and the 49ers are mirror images, which is no surprise since if you aimed a looking glass at the 49ers sideline you would get a reflection of his brother Coach Jim standing there.
As with my league championship predictions, I really have no idea who is going to win. Even with my understanding that I have no true prophetic ability, I won’t keep me from trying.
Furthermore, I must now gloat and point to my correct prognostications. Against most of the pundits, I picked Balmer to make the Super Bowl. I also chose the 49ers to make it.
The truth is, as a Baltimoron I badly want to see a Ravens win. My hometown is so starved for a champion that it would be a big boon to the place. I do realize in saying that, however, that people who claim places like San Diego and Seattle as their home have similar feelings. Too bad.
I have been disappointed in the outcome of matches in which I had a huge emotional investment before. The biggest sporting letdown of my life (other than the Baltimore Colts loss to Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III, which would probably be number once except that I was too young to understand the game’s meaning) was the result of the 1979 World Series.
In this event, I watched hopelessly as the Pittsburgh Pirates won Game 7. I knew by the 7th inning it was over, as the Pirates submariner Kent Teckulve was unhittable.
The Orioles blew a 4-1 series lead. I remember being distraught in the last part of the last game. Afterwards, I vowed never to get so emotionally involved with a sports team again, and I haven’t.
Which doesn’t mean I won’t be pulling for the Ravens. Here’s my prediction of how things will pan out.
Joe Flacco opens the Super Bowl with a long bomb touchdown to Maryland’s Torrey Smith on the first play and the Ravens go up 7-0. The first quarter ends with that score. Colin “Legs” Kaepernick is tackled by Ed Reed after a 30-yard run in the middle of the second quarter and suffers a concussion, making his continuance unwise.
In comes Alex Smith, who unjustly lost his starting job to Kaepernick after he himself was concussed during the season. The half ends with the 49ers defense standing strong, knowing that their backs are against the wall. Halftime score 7-0.
In the third quarter, the 49ers defense continues to play well, sacking Joe Flacco several times. Aldon Smith smacks the ball out of Flacco’s hand at the Ravens 20, picks up the ball and runs it into the end zone. In a horribly boring Super Bowl at this point, the third quarter ends 7-7 and I am hoping somebody in my family is going to order pizza.
However, the teams come out in the fourth quarter playing with a vengeance. Both defenses are tired after fending off relentless rushing from Frank Gore and Ray Rice all game.
In the first series, Flacco finds Torrey Smith for another long score . No to be denied Alex Smith dinks and dunks the 49ers down the field and finally lobs the ball into Vernon Davis’s (like Smith, a Terrapin) hands for an equalizing touchdown with two minutes to go. With Jim Caldwell calling run after run to Rice and Bernard Pierce, the clock runs out and the Super Bowl goes into overtime.
The 49ers win the toss and march down the field with their former field general in charge. In comes the fragile David Akers to attempt a 42 yard field goal. As expected, he misses.
The Ravens take over. With the 49ers front seven coming with an all-out blitz in a last gasp effort to get to The Streaky One, Flacco dumps a screen pass to Ray Rice.
As he has done in the past (think 4th and 29 this season), Rice speeds down the field and is angled out of bounds by a 49ers defender.
The Ravens season ended last year in the AFC Championship game with Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left. In a piece of divine justice, his replacement Justin Tucker boots a similar 32 yarder and Ray Lewis is seen lying prostrate in glory as the ball sails straight through the uprights.
Lewis and the Ravens garner their second Lombardi Trophy, which is no big surprise. However, what is a stunning development in this day and age of wide-open offensive football is the final score:
Ravens 17 49ers 14.
There is just no way I can pick against a team from Baltimore in a big game. My head says San Fran, but my heart says Charm City.