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Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore Ravens Send Ray Lewis Out on Top…Hollywood Style

In Sports on February 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Ray Lewis Lombardi Trophy

If the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl run was written as a Hollywood script, it may have been sent back to the writers asking them to make it seem more realistic.   What happened last night in Super Bowl XLVII at the Superdome in New Orleans is as improbable as any sports championship that any of us will likely experience in our lifetimes.  The word “destiny” is often used, but the Ravens’ journey to Super Bowl glory may be proof positive that it actually exists in sports, and may also be the reason that Ray Lewis got to end his illustrious 17-year career on the ultimate high note.

When Lewis tore his triceps in the middle of the year, it looked like his season was going to be over.  The usual recovery time for injuries like this would have given Lewis no chance to return, even if the Ravens made it to the playoffs.  But Lewis was determined to make it back, and convinced the Ravens not to place him on injured reserve.  At the time, no one but Lewis and his family knew that he was planning on retiring at the end of the season.

Wearing a cumbersome arm brace, Lewis made good on his promise and returned for the Wildcard game against the Indianapolis Colts, physically limited, but determined to carry his team to the Super Bowl.  Despite his limitations, he led his team to a victory over his former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who also had an improbable return to the sidelines after an in-season battle with Leukemia.  The home crowd erupted when Lewis did his famous dance one last time on his final play at M & T Stadium.  It was a tremendous sendoff to the man who has meant so much to the organization.

The victory over the Colts meant that the Ravens would go on the road to face Peyton Manning, and the top-seeded Denver Broncos.  The Broncos, who were riding an 11-game winning streak into the playoffs, had only lost one game at home all season long.  The Ravens were 4-4 on the road, and more importantly, they had lost 4 out of the last 5 games of the season, including a 34-17 home loss to the Broncos.

In recent years, it has been proven time and again that the best NFL team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl.  Often times, the hottest team is the one that ends up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.  The Broncos were the hottest team coming into the playoffs, and the Ravens were the coldest.  Most people, including diehard Ravens fans, realized that the odds of Lewis making it to the Super Bowl by beating the red-hot Broncos on the road, was a longshot at best.

The Ravens played the Broncos much tougher than most people expected.  It was a back and forth game that left the Ravens season hanging by a thread as they trailed by a touchdown with less than a minute to play.  On third down and three from their own 30-yard line, and only 31 seconds left in the game, Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones – who somehow managed to get behind the Broncos defense – with a 70-yard bomb for a touchdown.  The team with no hope was suddenly looking like a team of destiny once again as they tied the game.  The Broncos were in such shock by the turn of events, that they didn’t even let Manning attempt to try and move them into field goal range to win the game in regulation.  They simply took a knee and headed to overtime.

Neither team was able to score in the first overtime, but then opportunity knocked for the Ravens early in the second overtime when Manning threw the type of pass that you expect from gunslinger quarterbacks, across his body, while rolling to the right.  The pass had no velocity on it, and was easily intercepted.  Five plays later, Raven’s rookie kicker, Justin Tucker, nailed a 47-yard game winning field goal, and the team of destiny was headed back on the road to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a re-match of last year’s heartbreaking AFC Championship Game.

Beating the inexperienced Colts at home wasn’t surprising, but beating the Broncos on the road in such incredible fashion was more than anyone realistically expected from the Ravens.  Could an aging Ravens defense possibly go into Foxboro, MA and shut down Brady and the Patriots?  The odds were heavily stacked against them.  After all, the Patriots had only lost one game at home all season long, and had won 9 of the last 10 games of the regular season.  If that wasn’t daunting enough, the Patriots were relatively fresh, while the Ravens defense had played 87 plays against the Colts and 87 plays against the Broncos in the thin Denver air.

Old and tired is not usually a recipe for success against the Patriots high-powered offense, but somehow, some way, the Ravens defense, having played a combined 174 plays in the two weeks prior to the Patriots game, were able to travel to Foxboro on a cold winter’s night and make Brady look ordinary.  Heavy underdogs once again, the Ravens dominated in a 28-13 victory that sent them to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history.

In true Hollywood fashion, the script writers made sure that Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco Forty Niners would overcome a huge deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons and end up as the opponent to John Harbaugh’s Ravens in what many dubbed the “HarBowl.”   This brother vs. brother matchup almost happened last year, but both the Ravens and Niners found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in their respective championship games with heartbreaking losses.

The Ravens overcame adversity and proved their detractors wrong throughout the playoffs, so why should the Super Bowl be any different?

Often times, media day brings out some controversy during Super Bowl week.  However, under the Harbaugh brothers’ guidance, neither team was likely to have anyone say anything inflammatory to provide bulletin board material to the other team.  But that didn’t stop an outsider from trying to leverage the Super Bowl media hype to stir up controversy and promote his own agenda.

To a man, everyone who has ever been around Lewis looks at him as a leader who works as hard as any other player in the game to stay in shape.  And while his recovery from torn triceps seemed miraculous, it’s hard to believe that Lewis defied the odds by using a banned substance found in Deer Antler Spray.  But his accuser, who owns a company that sells the spray, created more adversity for Lewis and the Ravens to overcome.  To their credit, they all stood together and didn’t let this controversy cause them to take their eyes off of the prize.  If anything, the opposite is true.

After all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the Super Bowl, it was finally time for the game.  Despite the stakes, we were reminded that the Super Bowl is merely a game in the scheme of things as we watched the kids from Sandy Hook Elementary School sing “America the Beautiful” with Jennifer Hudson of American Idol fame.

The captains met at the 50-yard line for the coin toss.  Lewis called it, the Ravens won and elected to defer until the second half.  The Niners started the game at their own 20-yard line after the opening kickoff sailed out of the end zone for a touchback.

On the first play from scrimmage, rookie quarterback, Colin Kaepernick drilled the ball to tight end, Vernon Davis for a big gain, but the play was called back because the Niners lined up illegally.  The young Niners were clearly feeling the Super Bowl jitters much more than the veteran Ravens, and they didn’t move the ball at all early on.  The Ravens’ first possession started near mid field, and they marched down and scored a quick touchdown, aided by a Niner penalty that extended the drive.

The Niners seemed to move the ball at will on their next possession, but the Ravens defense tightened up in the red zone as they usually do, and held the Niners to a field goal.

One of the questions coming into the game was whether or not Joe Flacco was an “elite NFL quarterback.”  He looked poised from the beginning of the game, and proved that his first touchdown pass was no fluke when he hit wide receiver, Anquan Boldin on a long pass, an especially impressive throw considering that he was rolling out and wasn’t set when he launched it down the field.  The Ravens ended up punting on that drive after a sack on Flacco knocked them out of field goal range.

When the Niners got the ball back and started moving down the field with ease, it looked like their speed was going to be too much for the Ravens defense.  Even Lewis, who had been a dominating presence in his previous playoff games, looked slow and was getting beaten by the quicker Niner players.  But the Ravens are an opportunistic defense.  They stripped LaMichael James, recovered the fumble and gave the ball back to a red-hot Flacco, who marched the Ravens down the field for his third touchdown pass of the half.

Even though the Niners managed to score right before the half, they were held to a field goal, so the momentum didn’t swing in their favor.

When Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a Ravens touchdown, it looked like this was going to be another Super Bowl blowout, however, Hollywood scripts require drama to be effective.  So, with the Ravens holding a commanding 28-6 lead early in the third quarter, something had to be done to challenge the Ravens and make them earn their team of destiny status.

The Niners were facing third down and thirteen yards to go for a first down when the lights went out in the Superdome.  Darkness enveloped the stadium momentarily, and the broadcast booth lost all communication.  Total confusion ensued.  It took 34 minutes for the power to be fully restored to light the stadium and to allow for communication between the sidelines and the coaches booths.  Even in Hollywood, this would have seemed like an unrealistic turn of events.

In sports, the one thing that you never want to do is lose momentum.  There is nothing that can be done about the extended halftime at the Super Bowl, but the 34-minute power outage delay was an absolute momentum killer for the Ravens.  Because they ran back the opening kickoff of the second half, it was 84 minutes of real time between offensive possessions.  Quite frankly, they lost their offensive rhythm and opened the door for a comeback, something that the Niners had done in every playoff game leading up to the Super Bowl.  But the layoff also hurt the Ravens defense, especially the older players who don’t warm up as easily.

In the four minutes and ten seconds following the power outage, the Niners outscored the Ravens by a 17-0 margin.  Suddenly, the Ravens’ insurmountable lead was tenuous at best.  They had to know that there was no way that 28 points was going to be enough to hold off the young, hungry Niners who had all of the momentum.  With their backs against the wall, Flacco stopped the bleeding and put together a drive that ended in a field goal, and an 8-point lead.

With just under 13 minutes left in the game, the Ravens were clinging to a 31-23 lead, but they had no answer for the inexperienced, but incredibly talented Kaepernick.  It didn’t take long for him to march the Niners back down the field for a touchdown.  The team of destiny had a 22-point lead reduced to a mere two points after the power outage, and a 2-point conversion would tie the game.  But Kaepernick’s inexperience was no match for the Ravens savvy veteran defense.  They stopped the conversion and held on to the lead.

The Ravens offense responded with another drive that ended in a field goal, but a 5-point lead meant that they could still lose if they gave up a touchdown, and the Niners would get the ball back with over four minutes left in the game and two timeouts remaining.

With just over two minutes left in the game, the Niners were inside the Ravens’ 10-yard line, and threatening to take their first lead of the game.  As they have done time and time again in the playoffs, the Ravens defense made a stand when it mattered most.  The game came down to 4th and goal, and the Ravens knew that they had no choice but to blitz and leave every receiver in one-on-one coverage.  When the ball fell beyond Michael Crabtree’s outstretched hands in the end zone, and no penalties were called on the play, the team of destiny was ready to put the final stamp on this improbable Hollywood ending.

The Ravens punter killed 8 seconds before running out of the end zone for a safety, leaving only 4 seconds on the clock.  The Niners had one last chance to return the free kick for a touchdown to complete the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, but when the Ravens tackled Ted Ginn Jr. near midfield, the Hollywood ending was complete.

Years from now, this classic Super Bowl will be remembered for brothers facing each other as head coaches and a power outage that caused a 34-minute delay that nearly caused an improbable comeback.  But most importantly, it will be remembered as the final game in the illustrious career of Ray Lewis, an incredible linebacker and leader who willed his team to a championship with all of the odds stacked against him…just the way that they script it in Hollywood.

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