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Venkataraman: Jim Harbaugh’s deal with the devil and other thoughts on Super Bowl XLVII

With the exception of the Raiders-Buccaneers blowout 11 years ago, the Super Bowl has always been high on drama. The last few years have condensed an entire season’s worth of tension, pressure and intensity into a few agonizing minutes towards the end of the game. This year’s tilt was no exception, with the champion Baltimore Ravens outlasting the San Francisco 49ers by the slimmest of margins, 34-31. A few musings about the game:

i. What an ending. What looked like a blowout turned into a spectacular game, with a fitting controversial ending. Seems comical in retrospect that in the Year of the Replacement Referee, the turning point in the Super Bowl came on a fourth-and-goal play where there was plenty of contact and the zebras swallowed their whistles. Personally, I think that was blatant defensive holding; as a referee, I think you have to make that call, especially since Michael Crabtree was trying to locate the ball as Jimmy Smith locked his arms to his body. Instead, the men in black and white continued a time-honored tradition of refusing to whistle anything that happens inside the two-minute warning.

ii. Not a huge fan of the 49ers play calling down near the goal line. A single touchdown on those early (or late) trips changes this game entirely. Instead, the 49ers went pass happy, which not only prevented them from milking the clock but also cost them a few downs on foolish back-shoulder fades on both sides of the end zone.

With Kaepernick at the helm, I am convinced that running quarterback draws on four straight plays would undoubtedly end up scoring six. Instead, the Niners are left to rue what could have been. On that note, it is never smart to put the game on the line by throwing the ball up for grabs and hoping for a penalty. Unless of course you are Joe Flacco…

iii. Speaking of the new Joe Cool, Joe Flacco has earned every penny of the multi-trillion dollar contract some team is going to throw at him this offseason. I mean, are you kidding me? The dude has 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions and every viewer on the edge of his seat as he uncorks a deep ball. His MVP honor was well deserved.

I never thought I would say this, but I think it’s time to retire the “Flaccid Flacco” nickname. More stunningly, every dumb decision he made (i.e. the innumerable jump balls he threw up to Anquan Boldin over the course of these playoffs) worked out splendidly; I still have my doubts as to Flacco’s consistency, but he has more than worked his way off my “crappy quarterbacks” list.

iv. Colin Kaepernick is going to be a wonderful quarterback over the course of his career. He has an absolute howitzer attached to his right shoulder, he’s faster than a speeding bullet and, moreover, he has incredible poise in the pocket and touch on his passes…in short, everything you would want to build around. However, with all his success over the course of the season, we tend to forget this is his first full (half?) season playing in the NFL. Early on in the game, he looked quite jittery. And I would be remiss to forget that he almost incurred a delay-of-game penalty on every single snap.

v. Ray Rice has fumble-itis in the playoffs. Three fumbles in three postseason games have me quite concerned every time he touches the ball. The shocking thing is that Rice never fumbles in the regular season, which makes his playoff performances either staggering statistical outliers or a symptom of the intensity of playoff football.

vi. I don’t know if Jim Harbaugh had dealings with the devil at halftime, but if he did make a deal, it probably involves his soul, seven pounds of flesh and the ritual sacrifice of Alex Smith at the unholy altar of doom. Nothing else explains how, right after a gut-wrenching kickoff returned for a touchdown, the lights go out, the Niners storm right back and the Ravens start making all the mistakes they never made in the first half. The momentum in this game switched to the 49ers way faster than the amount of time it took the Superdome staff to figure out how the devil cut off their power.

vii. Speaking of power, Beyonce’s halftime performance was…interesting. I’m trying to think of the most politically correct way to say this…screw it. She is incredibly attractive. Enough said.

viii. In a game that smelled like a defensive struggle, complete with analogies to blood, gore and Roman gladiators, it figures that neither defense could ever get a stop when it really needed one. For the most part, the offenses rolled up and down the turf. The final score of 34-31 speaks to how offensively minded the league has become; two elite defenses couldn’t even stop two mediocre* offenses. (I have mediocre with an asterisk, because nothing about these teams is mediocre.)

ix. Speaking of defenses, enjoy retirement Ray Lewis. Few players have played the game as long as you, or with as much passion. Now you can officially become who you were meant to be: the world’s greatest motivational speaker.

x. With each passing year, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that the luckiest and hottest team always wins the Super Bowl, not necessarily the most talented. On paper, the Ravens were overmatched at nearly every position, both offensively and defensively.

However, they played loose and with utter (nearly irrational) confidence in their abilities, while the 49ers spent the entire first half in the fetal position. The last 10 Super Bowl champions (New England, New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New York, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay, New York, Baltimore) have all had one thing in common: they peaked towards the end of the season, built up momentum throughout the playoffs and got the better of the lucky breaks in the Super Bowl itself. The truth is that it’s not sufficient to be the most loaded roster in football; to win a Super Bowl, you’ve got to be lucky too.

With all that said, congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens, who are world champions (another quick note: since no other nation plays football, calling the Ravens world champions seems like egregious overstatement, but I digress) and now face an offseason filled with tough questions. And for the 49ers…you have lost twice in the most agonizing ways possible (two muffed punts last year, and I don’t want to re-salt this year’s wound so soon). Third time’s the charm, I guess?

I would also like to give a shout-out to managing editor George, who forced me to write this column as the 49ers were driving down the field to try to win the game. Thanks bro. I hope you suffer mightily for this.

Vignesh Venkataraman had more interesting things to say about Beyonce during the halftime show. Ask him what he really has to say at viggy@stanford.edu.

About Vignesh Venkataraman