John Harbaugh, Ravens fulfill their Super destiny
NEW ORLEANS -- This Super Bowl had everything, except, for a while, a game. When the power went out at the Superdome, with the Baltimore Ravens blowing out the 49ers, I thought, "Finally, New Orleans has an excuse to relax for a few minutes and have a drink." The men on the field had a lot more on their minds.
"You think about a lot of things," John Harbaugh said in a cramped coaches' room in the Ravens locker room, after the Ravens had won their second Super Bowl. He stood against a wall while his wife, Ingrid, checked her phone and his daughter Alison sat on a folding chair. "You've got a lot of time. You think about everything."
Everything. Details. Harbaugh thought about his team's phones and whether he could get his coordinators down from the press box and whether the 49ers would be able to do anything the Ravens couldn't do. He got animated when he talked to officials and said later: "I got carried away."
Everything. How about Ray Lewis, who told his buddy Ed Reed last offseason that this was his last season, told the world last month, and was on the verge of going out as a champion? How about Joe Flacco, alternately brilliant and awful for much of his career, finally shutting off the cold spout?
What about Cam Cameron, Harbaugh's longtime friend and offensive coordinator? Harbaugh fired him in December with the offense stuck in neutral, but the two are so close that Cameron kept texting Harbaugh through the playoffs to tell him he was pulling for him. Harbaugh said Sunday night: "In my mind, he is definitely going to get a ring. He deserves a ring."
You think about everything. Mostly, John Harbaugh thought that Jim Harbaugh's 49ers would come back, knew they would come back, because Colin Kaepernick is too good, because the 49ers are too relentless, and mostly because they are Jim's. John Harbaugh's little brother does not give up.
The brothers said for two weeks that this wasn't about them, it was about their teams. They meant it. But John admitted Sunday night: "I thought of it every day. Almost every second."
There is no way to quantify belief in sports. Nobody says the Baltimore Ravens led the league with a 73.2 True Belief In Themselves Rating, just ahead of San Francisco, and 73.1 points ahead of the Jets.
But you know belief when you see it. You know it when Flacco looks like Eli Manning looked in two Super Bowl runs: Unflappable and untouchable. Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and he probably could have thrown for 400 yards if the Ravens had wanted.
Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP, then told his critics to ... well, to do whatever the heck they wanted. Get a beer or something, folks. Do your taxes. It's all good.
"I've never cared," Flacco said after the Ravens' 34-31 win. "I don't ever want to feel like I'm in a position to defend myself. It's just not right. I don't have to do that."
Belief can carry a team when a 28-6 lead turns into 34-29 with two minutes left, and the opposing quarterback can lean over his center and spit on the goal line. Four times, the Ravens stopped San Francisco. Maybe there was some pass interference. Maybe the 49ers could have called for a zone-read Kaepernick special. Maybe the Ravens don't give a damn.
When you believe, you don't worry when the electricity literally and figuratively leaves the building. You don't buy into conspiracy theories about the power outage (wouldn't playing later at night favor the team from the Pacific Time Zone?) or fret about losing momentum.
You don't panic when safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata get hurt, because the Ravens have been coping with injuries to their defensive stars since Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon last April.
The Ravens are the rare champion that can say nobody believed in them. A few weeks ago, nobody did. But more relevantly, they can say they believed.
On a night when Beyonce reunited with her old friends, the Ravens seemed like destiny's children: From the moment Lewis announced his retirement, the puzzle solved itself. They beat the (formerly Baltimore) Colts in the wild-card round. They came back in all sorts of implausible ways to stun the Broncos in Denver. They went back to New England, where they suffered one of the most devastating playoff losses in league history last year, and beat the Patriots.
It helps to believe. But destiny is for storytellers; football coaches deal in reality. This was a victory for and about one of the best organizations in the league. To understand why, look at the Ravens' biggest play of the night: The 108-yard kick return by Jacoby Jones.
During the break between the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl, special teams coach Jerry Rosburg decided to install a straight-up-the-middle kick return. The Ravens had not used it all season -- it wasn't even in the playbook. Harbaugh, a former special-teams coach, tweaked the play. They decided if they won the coin toss, they would defer, then use the return on the opening kickoff of the second half.
The Ravens executed it perfectly. And one reason they executed it perfectly is that starting cornerback Corey Graham helped with the blocking scheme. Graham took over for cornerback Lardarius Webb, arguably the Ravens' best defensive player, when Webb tore up his right knee this season. Graham started at cornerback on the punt and kickoff return teams for most of the season.
"Nobody does that," Rosburg said.
This is the Ravens' way. They find hidden talents, giving them the key to any Super Bowl champion: depth. They have created a culture where even stars do grunt work. And Harbaugh and his coaches are as good at game preparation as any other staff in the league.
It added up to the greatest moment of John Harbaugh's coaching career, and also the hardest: The postgame handshake with his brother.
Jim Harbaugh told the media he would take the loss "with class and grace," and he tried, he really did. But he also complained about the officiating (and in at least two instances, he was probably right).
This is why Jim's postgame answers are usually so short -- he knows himself well, and he knows that the longer he talks, the more likely he'll say something he regrets. He has a hard time being patient and giving a drawn-out, politically correct answer. His competitive fires don't burn out that quickly.
John would have handled it better. All those years of being the lesser-known Harbaugh taught John how to manage frustration and failure. But Jim will handle it. He'll need a little more time and a lot more solitude. But he'll handle it.
With Harbaugh, Kaepernick and an array of young talent, the 49ers will have more chances. The Ravens may, too, especially with Flacco figuring it out ... but they won't be these Ravens, the team of Lewis and Reed. Lewis is retiring, and if Reed follows through on his promise to play next year, he may wear a different uniform.
Reed, a leader to the end, instructed a teammate on how to smoke a cigar. ("You don't inhale!") And for all the jokes about Preacher Ray and his farewell tour, he was a player for the ages, and his impact on the Ravens was real.
"His legacy, man, is an exclamation point right now," Reed said.
John Harbaugh's legacy is attached to his brother's. It probably always will be.
On the field afterward, John looked like any other victorious coach as he did his postgame media tour, jumping from one TV network's set to the next, while 11-year-old Alison made a snow angel in the confetti on the field, stuffed confetti into her mother's purse, and waited for her father.
You had to know the backstory to realize who was missing. John's parents, Jack and Jackie had watched his press conference with his sister, Joani, and her husband, Indiana coach Tom Crean. But then they went off to console Jim.
John's wife, Ingrid, said she was still "stunned" -- not because the Ravens won, but because it was so crazy and so close.
"It's never pretty, it's never perfect, but it is us," John said.
He was talking about the Ravens. He could have been talking about the Harbaughs, too. They can seem a little crazy, but they're as close as almost any family in sports. In the little coaches' room of the Baltimore locker room, after one of the wildest and finest Super Bowls ever played, the winning coach said of the loser: "He's the best coach in football right now."