Announcers: The game is being televised by CBS Sports, which means we'll get the dulcet tones of Jim Nantz and color commentary of Phil Simms. These guys aren't bad, but in CL's eyes they're probably the third-best team out there, behind NBC's Al Michaels/Chris Collinsworth and Fox's Joe Buck/Troy Aikman. But really, let's not make too much out of this. You'd watch the game even with Bubba the Love Sponge and Todd Schnitt behind the mic. Remember to tune in early, as the endless pre-game show has probably started already …
(Side note: Vegas always lists odds for all type of unconventional bets, from the coin toss to how many times the coach's parents will make the telecast. I wonder what the odds are that Boomer Esiason or Shannon Sharpe will mention their colleague Dan Marino's off the field scoring?)
The Stars: Lakeland's own Ray Lewis was always going to dominate New Orleans, as the voluable 37-year-old linebacker announced recently that this would be his swan song after 17 Hall-of-Fame seasons. Of course, a little Ray-Ray goes a long way, and there are probably many football fans who are weary of Lewis' antics, such as the trademark dance that he will no doubt do when introduced Sunday night.
More serious, of course, is the fact that the linebacker's legacy will always be marred by his involvement in an incident that led to a man being killed at the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta. Lewis pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and testified against two other men (both were later acquitted of murder), but his critics will never forgive or forget. And the whole Deer Antler weirdness from earlier this week only added fuel to the critic's fire. As a Niner fan, the last thing I want to hear Sunday night if the Ravens win is how this incident motivated him even more.
Quarterbacks: There's always great emphasis on the QBs (the ultimate glamour position in pro sports), and this year is no different. Ravens QB Joe Flacco has been a winner in his five seasons in the league, but there's been some dispute about whether or not he's "elite." Statistically, you'd have to say no. But he's been mighty impressive this post-season, out-dueling both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in their respective cribs in January. A case can be made that Flacco's on a roll and will lead the Ravens to the promised land, something I can totally see happening.
On the San Fran side of the ball, much has been made about the fact that 25-year-old second year man Colin Kaepernick has only started a grand total of nine games in the NFL — all in the past few months. That said, he's been a revelation, and has had two performances that literally blew people's minds.
The first was against the Chicago Bears in a nationally televised Monday night game in November, back when the Bears were considered really good. No one knew what to expect out of Kaepernick, and he was astonishingly good that evening. Then he fell somewhat back to earth, as the Niners struggled a bit in the last month of the season.
The other game that blew minds was three weeks ago, when Kaepernick ran for a record-breaking 181 yards and threw for 233 more as the Niners took out the Green Bay Packers, a team that many experts predicted would go into San Francisco and beat the Niners.
Commercials: Traditionally we've always disdained the mania about ads. We try to ignore them as much as possible when watching television, but the commercials are always a big deal at Super Bowl parties, especially among non-football freaks who need something to talk about at work the next day. (Here's a preview of what will be airing Sunday night.)
Music: Beyonce is singing at halftime, and God knows there's been enough written about her last performance, lip-synching to the Star Spangled Banner at President Obama's inauguration. Halftime at the Super Bowl is always frustrating — it's a longer than at a usual NFL game, yet it's always a tease if you really dig the performer, because he/she/it is only allowed about 12 minutes to perform.
Sunday's game takes place at the Superdome, the site of our all-time favorite halftime show, a performance by U2 during the 2002 Super Bowl, the first to take place after the 9/11 attacks.
The Harbaughs: Being a Niners fan, I totally get that it's much easier for neutral observers to root for Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh. He seems like a super cool guy with a smooth personality, one who had to fight hard to get where he's at. Unlike his slightly younger brother Jim, John Harbaugh never played pro football. He was never a star. And John Harbaugh and the word "controversial" have rarely if ever been employed in the same sentence.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, on the other hand, is one intense dude. Scarily so, at times. He's awkward, and can make an utter fool of himself. But the guy can flat out motivate. He's been doing it at the head coaching level for only six years, yet he's already turned around three programs: The University of San Diego, Stanford and now the 49ers, taking them to the NFC Championship game in his first year and now to the Super Bowl in his second.
Niner fans (or at least this Niner fan) swear by the guy, which is why I was totally cool with his bold decision to bench veteran Alex Smith and go with the untested Kaepernick earlier this season. Then again, I've seen Alex Smith play more than most casual fans have, and I was never convinced that he'd take the NIners to the promised land. Yes, he became a better quarterback over the past few season, mostly thanks to Harbaugh, I'd say. Smith became a good "manager," not turning the ball over much, but not making very many big plays either, save for the electrifying run that beat the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs nearly 13 months ago.
Obviously, I'll be rooting hard for the Niners. But the Ravens aren't the Patriots — they're not so easy to hate. As stated earlier, I'd rather not be subjected to endless Ray Lewis interviews at the end of this game, but other than that, I think I might be able to emotionally handle a Niners loss. Unless it's because kicker David Akers screws up in the end. That might be too difficult to stomach, as distrust of the kicking game has haunted Niners fans ever since the 38-year-old's performance on the field went way south (and west and east) over the past few months.
The over/under (i.e., the total number of points that will be scored by both teams) is 47 points, and the Niners are favored by 3.5 (down from the original Vegas listing of 5 points). We are predicting that Frank Gore will score the first touchdown.