In the midst of an electric atmosphere, at the New Orleans Superdome, the thunderous Raven’s linebacker, Ray Lewis, emerged out of the player’s tunnel. Upon reaching the end of the tunnel, Lewis stood still for a moment, his head turned up at the chaos around him. He seemed to absorb it, to welcome it; as the crowd grew louder, his own energy intensified, his own desires were enhanced. A moment later, Ray Lewis lowered his head, yelled out a bellowing cry, and began his last iconic pre-game dance, in front of 72,000 fans.
At the onset of the NFL season, Lewis was a hapless and injured veteran, with an outside shot of returning to the field. It was his last NFL season, and he was a forgotten storyline, a fading hero. Yet Lewis’s return to football came rapidly, and unexpectedly. The transition was more than a recovery; it was a reminder, of how precious the game was to him, and a re-motivating experience that seemed to inflict him with a newfound purpose.
Last night, Ray Lewis was anything but a fading storyline, he was a storied champion, the veteran vertebrate of the Baltimore Ravens; the poised leader on a quest to seize another Super Bowl title.
On the other side of the field stood Lewis’s unproven counterpart, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, young and dynamic, hoped to restore the sterling reputation of the 49ers franchise by leading them to their first Super Bowl victory since 1994. It was a lot to ask from someone who was only 6 years old at the time, and a backup as recently as last November. When both teams took the field, the Ravens’ presence was felt immediately. Joe Flacco threw for 3 touchdowns in the first half, answering many questions about his elite status, and the Baltimore defense kept San Francisco to a dismal 6 points, and forced two turnovers. At the half, the Ravens led the 49ers 21-6.
The third quarter started just as dominantly for the Ravens; Jacoby Jones ran the opening kick-off back 108 yards for a touchdown, to put Baltimore up by 23 points. Then, something remarkable happened. The power went out in the New Orleans Superdome. In the middle of the biggest national sporting event, the resilient stadium that once stood up to the turbulence of Hurricane Katrina, lost its lights.
The absurdity of it all was powerful enough to break the Raven’s momentum, and the brief respite provided the 49ers with the energy they needed for one final push. When the lights turned back on, two different teams took the field. In the remainder of the third quarter, the 49ers answered the Raven’s dominance with 3 scores of their own: a passing touchdown from Kaepernick to Crabtree, a Frank Gore run, and a David Akers field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Niners inched closer to the Ravens, and gradually continued to close the gap. Kaepernick seemed to find his stride, and the defense shifted into another gear. With just about 4 minutes left in the game, the 49ers got the ball on their own 20 yard line, down by only 5 points: a chance for Kaepernick to drive them 80 yards down the field for a final, game-winning, touchdown.
It had to be that way. The young, untested, Kaepernick would have to stare directly into Ray Lewis’s menacing Raven defense, and drive his team 80 yards if he wanted to win the Super Bowl. He would have to prove himself against the ultimate challenge. The same was true for Lewis. An aging defenseman in a physical game, Lewis would have to buckle down, and play harsh, tenacious, defense against a younger and quicker offense, in order to clinch his second Super Bowl.
Nine plays later, and the San Francisco came up five yards short. Lewis, and the Ravens had closed out the 49ers and won their first Super Bowl Championship since 2001. The game tied the knot on some fantastic storylines: the matchup of the brothers Harbaugh, the Cinderella story of Colin Kaepernick, and of course, the career of Ray Lewis. Rest assured, when the lights go off for good tonight, everyone in Baltimore will sleep happy.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 4 print edition. Nishaad Ruparel is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected]