Congratulations, Baltimore Ray-vens!

You did it, Ray! (courtesy of CBS News)

No matter who they are or where they play, every NFL football player who makes the decision to retire hopes to go out on top. Unfortunately, this rarely happens and in many cases, players who once dazzled fans find themselves drifting into obscurity on the bench of some mediocre team.

Such is not the case for Ray Lewis.

In what was the final game of his professional career–last night’s Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers–Ray and his Baltimore Ravens showed everyone why they deserved to be in The Big Game.

Despite some late setbacks, including a 30-minute power outage and a final rally by Colin Kaepernick and his Bay area team, Ray and his teammates managed a 34-31 victory and are now the world champs.

Congratulations, Ravens!

Normally, news like this would depress me because my own team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, missed the playoffs this year. It took every ounce of my being to pull for our AFC North rivals, but I swallowed my pride and got behind Ray and the boys since a win show just how tough our division can be. And they certainly didn’t disappoint.

It also helps that Ray won’t be on the field next season, which gives my Steelers even more of an advantage. We may still find a way to screw things up, mind you, but at least it won’t be because of something Ray did.

Of course, the usual detractors continue to surface and to criticize last night’s win.

One “injustice” (their word) involves a no-call during San Francisco’s final offensive drive. On fourth down, Kaepernick floated a pass to Michael Crabtree in the end zone for what could have been the go-ahead score. There was contact between he and the defender, but no interference penalty was called and the pass fell incomplete. Moments later, the Ravens ran out the clock and chalked up the second Super Bowl win in their franchise’s history.

I saw the controversial play and honestly, I think the referees made the right decision. The pass was a little high and there is no guarantee that Crabtree would catch it. And since I firmly believe that referees call too many penalties–even for the slightest contact–I appreciated them letting these guys duke it out. Had it been more obvious or egregious, I’m sure my opinion would be different.

Great quarterbacks led the charge (courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images)

Another controversy surrounds the power outage that effectively paused the game for half an hour or more. It happened at the beginning of the second half, just after Jacoby Jones ran the kickoff back for a touchdown and tied for the longest kickoff return in Super Bowl history (108 yards).

At the time, Baltimore was riding high with a 28-6 lead, but the blackout killed any momentum they had. It also gave Jim Harbaugh more time to plan his attack because when the lights finally came back on, they illuminated a San Francisco team that looked completely different from the one we saw in the first half.

Kaepernick and his 49ers went on a run that brought them within striking distance of the Ravens. Thanks to a failed 2-point conversion attempt, though, they handed the ball back to Baltimore with a 31-29 lead. A field goal later and the score became 34-29.

Once the 49ers got the ball back, Kaepernick marched his team downfield and ended up within five yards of the go-ahead score. That’s when the Ravens defense–who struggled with injury all year and looked nothing like the Ravens of old–tightened up and made a strong, goal-line stand. A fourth down throw to Michael Crabtree and the aforementioned no-call for interference ended the 49ers drive and pinned Baltimore deep for their final offensive possession.

In an effort to run down the clock as much as possible, Baltimore focused on the run and quickly went three-and-out, forcing them to punt and giving San Francisco one last chance to either tie or win the game.

Then John Harbaugh made what had to be one of the smartest and most strategic decisions I have seen in a long time.

Rather than punting the ball back to his brother’s team, John had his punter hold the ball, dance around the end zone and eventually take a safety. This brought the score to 34-31, but ate up so much clock that by the time the Ravens kicked off, the 49ers had only a return opportunity. They obviously fell short and sent the Lombardi trophy back to Baltimore.

Although the first half of the Super Bowl was lopsided and I feared a blowout, the second half turned everything around and made this one of the most exciting championships I’ve seen in years. Sure, there were bad calls, blackouts and other controversies, but they’re pretty common in the NFL. The important thing is that for the most part, it was a clean game with lots of emotion, excitement and suspense.

Lewis sacks Harbaugh in 1996 (courtesy of USA Today)

You can’t ask for better than that.

And I didn’t realize this until last night, but Ray Lewis’ first career sack came against Jim Harbaugh, who was quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in 1996. Ray may be the only man in history to face someone as a player and then face him again as a coach, especially in the Super Bowl. Yet another great story from last night’s contest.

So congratulations on being the new world champions, Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens! And thanks for bringing the trophy back to the AFC North!

Here’s hoping my Steelers can bring it back again in 2014!

Posted on February 4, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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