Purple Gang

by | Feb 4, 2013 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

NEW ORLEANS – And then the lights went out. The Super Bowl went semi-dark. Players wandered aimlessly. Officials looked lost. The most marketed, most orchestrated, most expensive sports show on earth had been reduced to a high school play when someone steps on the extension cord.

Suddenly, silhouettes. It was fitting for a game in which, to that point, half the participants were shadows. The Baltimore Ravens might have noticed the power outage. But how could the San Francisco 49ers tell the difference? They hadn’t scored a touchdown, were trailing by 22 points and had just surrendered a 108-yard kickoff return, tying the Super Bowl record. Colin Kaepernick, the young quarterback, looked overwhelmed. The defense was getting pasted. It couldn’t have gotten much darker for San Francisco.

But then it did. A 34-minute power outage that killed electricity, stopped escalators and left the Superdome eerily quiet. Players stretched. They laid down.

“It felt like an hour,” Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta would say.

And apparently, during that break, the teams traded in their game plans. Because when play finally resumed, it wasn’t the same.

Lights on for 49ers

Suddenly, illuminated. With the lights back on, the 49ers shed the shackles and pulled on the Superman spandex. A touchdown. Another touchdown. A forced fumble. A field goal. Baltimore, so dominant in the first half, was playing like a balloon with a leak.

With just over 10 minutes left, Kaepernick took off and raced into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, the longest run by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. A failed two-point conversion left the 49ers trailing, 31-29.

So, thanks to the power outage, just about the time it should have been ending, the Super Bowl really began.

Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a long drive, just short of 6 minutes, which finished with a 38-yard field goal and a five-point cushion. Then it was the 49ers’ turn. True to their fast and fearless form, they used a Kaepernick scramble, a deep pass and an explosive Frank Gore 33-yard run to push things all the way down to the Baltimore 5-yard line.

But that’s where it would end.

Three straight times, Kaepernick went for Michael Crabtree, and three times, it crapped out, the final attempt a hurried throw that sailed over Crabtree’s head. Yes, he might have been held by the defender. His coach believes so. You can argue that forever. But it’s the Super Bowl. Don’t depend on a whistle. Make it happen.

The Ravens’ defense did – barely. This was a survival, not a statement. But when the confetti exploded, Ray Lewis was dancing and Flacco was pumping a fist and John Harbaugh looked for his younger brother, Jim, and gave him an affectionate tap.

“What did you say?” he was asked by CBS.

“I told him I loved him,” Harbaugh said.

What did he say?

“He said, ‘Congratulations.'”

Ravens’ winning attitude

What else could he say? This was a herky-jerky affair – it felt like two games (three if you count the Beyonce halftime show). Flacco would be get the MVP – “He’s got the guts of a burglar” his coach, John Harbaugh would say – and the numbers suggested he deserved it (287 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions). But Flacco’s heroics were mostly in the first half, which seemed so long ago by the end, you wondered if he wasn’t winning the 2012 award.

Anquan Boldin played well (six catches, 104 yards), and certainly Jacoby Jones, with his huge kickoff return and a monster 56-yard touchdown catch (caught it, fell, got up, eluded two guys and ran in) deserves accolades, too.

But overall, it was the Ravens’ attitude that won this thing. A team that stumbled down the end of the regular season came to life in the postseason. They beat Andrew Luck and the Colts, Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Tom Brady and the Patriots and, on Sunday, the Next Big Thing, Kaepernick and the 49ers.

“We went through a lot of peaks and valleys,” Lewis said after his final game. “This last ride, whatever we went through as a team, we figured it out.”

Maybe, by this morning, the electrical team can say the same. Suddenly, silhouettes. Finally, champions. It was a long night of lights and shadows. But in the end, it was the color purple keeping the other guys out of the end zone. That’s a Baltimore thing. Today, so is the trophy.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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