January 26, 2013

SUPER BOWL XLVII: A savory gumbo served in Super Bowl

Morning Sentinel Staff

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Like a savory Cajun gumbo, the Super Bowl has something for everyone's tastes.

A departing megastar in Ray Lewis.

A record-setting quarterback, Joe Flacco, finally reaching the NFL's biggest stage, where he'll face off against Colin Kaepernick -- a player representing the new wave at football's glamour position.

Dynamic defenses and big-play offenses.

A return to New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

A touch of history as the San Francisco 49ers (13-4-1) seek their sixth Super Bowl title when they meet the Baltimore Ravens (13-6) next Sunday at the Superdome.

Oh, yeah, and an unprecedented sibling rivalry, with Ravens coach John Harbaugh guiding his AFC champions against younger brother Jim and the NFC champ 49ers.

Delicious.

"I really don't have any words for it," said Ravens safety Ed Reed, who will play in his first Super Bowl at age 34.

Others will have millions of words to write and say about a matchup featuring fierce defenses, potent offenses and story lines worthy of America's unofficial sports holiday.

And guess who will ignore all those themes? The guys on the field.

"All of the side stories, if you aren't playing in the game, I guess that's great," said Ravens center Matt Birk, who gets to his initial title game at age 36. "You can enjoy that. I think as players we are just going to hunker down and focus in and concentrate on the task at hand."

While everyone else revels in the plot twists.

Such as the 37-year-old Lewis announcing the end of his Hall of Fame-quality career, stoking the emotional fire in his teammates and recapturing the level of play he had in his prime during three playoff wins. Lewis has 44 tackles in the playoffs after missing 10 weeks with a torn right triceps.

After performing his ritual dance before his second Super Bowl -- he was the MVP of the 2001 game when the Ravens won their only championship -- Lewis will strive for one more vintage performance.

"Ray is a guy who's been here since the beginning of this franchise," strong safety Bernard Pollard said. "He's a guy who is The Raven."

When Lewis leaves, it will be up to Flacco to grab the reins -- if he's still in Baltimore. The only quarterback to win playoff games in each of his first five seasons plays out his contract next Sunday.

Not a bad place to do it, under sports' most glaring spotlight. Should he win, the dollar signs on his next deal will be astronomical.

Flacco is a guy who succeeds away from Baltimore in the postseason: His six victories on the road are the most for any quarterback.

"I think every year when you get ready to go, you visualize it and you visualize yourself playing football at this time of year," he said, "and it's a tough deal to get to. But we have made it this far and we just have to make the most of it."

Trying to prevent that will be an opponent steeped in Super Bowl success, albeit not recently. A 49ers victory gives them six rings, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for most in the Super Bowl era. And the Niners never have lost the big game.

Still, their most recent championship was 18 years ago, with a guy named Steve Young at quarterback. Before that, the four titles came with another Hall of Famer, Joe Montana, throwing passes.

Now, it's Colin Kaepernick, the heavily tattooed second-year signal caller -- his favorite tattoo says, "My gift is my curse."

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