Classic Game, Electric Finish
New Orleans — The football sailed over the top of Michael Crabtree’s head, just past the tips of his outstretched hands, and fell to the bright red turf of the San Francisco end zone. On one side of the field, a Harbaugh pumped his fist in celebration, while on the other, one gripped his hands in no-call frustration.
No foul, no flag, no touchdown.
No shot we’ll ever forget this Super Bowl.
With early dominance and late tenacity, John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens beat Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers for the Super Bowl, a 34-31 decision that we all thought was going to be about family and football, but ended up being about follies and flashbulbs.
This game will always be about power.
As in no power.
As in a power outage that stole more than a half-hour of playing time, stole momentum right from under the purple-hued Ravens rug, and ultimately stole our football hearts for delivering a wild, intense second half that held the game’s outcome in its hands until the final, precious seconds, until Crabtree couldn’t reach the fourth-down heave just inside the two-minute warning.
It was a third quarter that will never be forgotten, yet one — if the NFL has its way — will never be repeated.
Here were the 49ers, desperate, reeling, down big and in major trouble. They needed a spark, and when the lights in the Superdome went out, they somehow found one. Only minutes after Jacoby Jones’ sprinting, end-to-end kickoff return to open the second half pushed the Ravens’ early dominance to a seemingly in-control 22-point lead, the Superdome went dark, an apparent surge of post-halftime show power turning all but some overhead lighting off inside the dome.
And for the next 34 minutes, the world’s biggest football game turned into the world’s biggest waiting game, an eerie quiet descending over a dome full of sparsely illuminated fans, everyone left in the dark about the cause of the outage and the expected end of it.
It was the night the lights went out in New Orleans.
And a night that will leave a rebuilt city, a refurbished dome and a reeling league searching for explanations as to what went wrong. For all of the NFL’s attempts to ensure their championship game is played under optimal conditions — hence their preference for temperature-controlled domes in moderate-climate cities — yesterday’s miscue served as potent reminder that nothing is entirely predictable.
In the initial 2 minutes, 21 seconds of play after the blackout, the 49ers surged with their own bolt of electricity, scoring two touchdowns on Crabtree’s daring 31-yard, tackle-breaking catch and Frank Gore’s bruising 6-yard run. And when Baltimore’s Ray Rice caught a pass only to fumble it away on the Ravens’ next drive, the conspiracy theorists were in full bloom as they saw San Francisco recover the ball and convert a David Akers field goal four plays later.
Quarterback Joe Flacco, with his stand-up presence in the pocket, turned in a first-half performance as good as anything this stage has ever seen. He threw three more postseason touchdown passes, bringing his total to 11 against no interceptions. With his 6-foot-6, slope-shouldered frame filling the pocket with presence and calm, Flacco threw the first bolt of electricity when he absolutely zipped an over-the-middle post route to Anquan Boldin.
The 13-yard touchdown pass was but a sign of more good things to come for the New Jersey native. With a 1-yard toss to tight end Dennis Pitta midway through the second quarter, Flacco capped a 10-play scoring drive and pushed his team’s lead to 14-3. But he wasn’t done, because while his early poise played testament to his five-year run to the playoffs, his counterpart looked every bit the part of a man making just his 10th NFL start.
But as it seemed the football gods were turning their spotlight on a new, transcendent star, granting Flacco full, nonrefundable entry into the elite quarterback club, the power grid had other plans. Memorable, yes, but not quite in the way the NFL wanted. On a night made for football, even when it is encased in the hoopla, hype and histrionics of Super Bowl Sunday, these fireworks were a bit too much.