A man-eating vagina; a giant turtle; gay rights supporters; the best bodies; a Beyonce halftime and who will win the game between the 49ers and Ravens.
WHAT: Super Bowl XLVII (47 for you mathematically challenged) will be held Sunday Feb. 3 and pits the Baltimore Ravens (13-6) from from the American Football Conference against the San Francisco 49ers (13-4-1) from the National Football Conference. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the 49ers a 3 1/2-point favorite, showing how close the game is expected to be. The two teams did not play in the regular season.
WHERE: The game will be played at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, the first time the city has hosted the game since Hurricane Katrina.
The people of New Orleans are mighty pissed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton for the season and (unsuccessfully) some players after finding they paid bounties to injure opposing players. They are so upset that various floats at the pre-Mardi Gras Krewe du Vieux parade featured Goodell in various sexual acts. One, dubbed “Super Hole XLVAG,” had the commissioner being eaten by a giant vagina. Another showed him screwing a barnyard animal. I assume Goodell will have a taste-tester when he ventures into the French Quarter this week.
KICKOFF/TV: The kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. EST, shortly after Alicia Keys sings the National Anthem. You can bet in Vegas on whether Keys' version will last longer than 2:15. The bookie who set the bet told SB Nation: "Whenever a singer announces they will do their own rendition of the anthem, it complicates the situation because it usually runs much longer. You are never sure what to expect." You can also get 5-1 odds on whether Keys will get booed.
The game will be broadcast on CBS, with Jim Nantz doing the play-by-play and Phil Simms the analysis. Simms was a cute blond in his days as the New York Giants quarterback and he has two sons, Chris and Matt, that have carried on that legacy. They aren't as good a quarterback as their dad, but they certainly are hot.
FASHION NOTE: The 49ers are the designated home team and will wear their red jerseys and gold pants. The Ravens will wear white with purple trim. Teams wearing white have won six of the last seven Super Bowls. The 49ers logo is a classic “SF,” while the Ravens have a stylized bird on their helmets; both work for me.
NUDE FASHION NOTE: If Ravens defensive back Bernard Pollard had his way, the game would be played in the nude (and see the TV audience soar). From the New York Times:
Pollard’s confidence reveals itself in the locker room, where he has no qualms about being naked. He will conduct full interviews in the nude. Pants are the enemy. When local journalists gave Pollard their “good guy” award after the 2011 season for being accommodating, they presented him with a pair of boxer shorts, in the hope that he would wear them. His own teammates have encouraged him to use a towel or two.
QUARTERBACKS: Two guys named Colin and Joe will be under center. Colin Kaepernick was on the bench for the first half of the season for the 49ers, until starter Alex Smith got hurt. When Smith got healthy, he stayed on the bench since Kaepernick brought an explosive dimension to the 49ers attack. In a playoff game against Green Bay, Kaepernick set a record for rushing yards by a quarterback, but he is also a threat throwing the ball. His body is adorned with tattoos, mostly religious.
Kaepernick, 6-4 and 230 pounds, has an interesting background, being a mixed race child adopted by German-American parents in Wisconsin. As a fourth-grader, he wrote an adorable letter to himself that has proved to be prophetic:
I’m 5 ft 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athelet. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft — to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob
In contrast, Flacco is kind of dull, a traditional “pocket” passer, but one who has been brilliant in the playoffs (eight touchdowns and no interceptions). Maybe the most interesting thing Flacco has done is participate in a Baltimore “polar bear” swim, diving into frigid Chesapeake Bay. Both Flacco and Kapernick seem like good guys, so there's no rooting interest either way for me.
QUARTERBACK PET ANGLE: Kaepernick has a pet turtle, Sammy, that weighs 115 pounds:
THE COACHES: In case you haven't heard, the coaches are brothers. John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens and Jim (younger by 15 months) the 49ers. Their mom said she hopes the game ends in a tie and bristled when a caller on a media conference call suggested she liked Jim better. She calmed down when the caller turned out to be John. Jim was a generally successful NFL quarterback, while John never made it past college football. John is considered the less loopy of the two, at least if sideline antics and press conferences are an accurate guide.
THE FANS: The Ravens don't have a rich history, having existed only since 1996, when they moved from Cleveland. But the city was passionate about the Baltimore Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1984, so fans there know their football. Swimmer Michael Phelps, a Baltimore native, is the best-known Ravens fan, and he showed up at the AFC Championship Game sporting a new grungy look. Two of my brothers and a nephew are huge Steelers fans, so they hate the Ravens as a matter of course (the two teams are bitter division rivals), but I have not found the Baltimore fan base to be that obnoxious.
The 49ers used to have annoying, entitled fans – that's what winning five Super Bowls in 13 years will do – but this is their first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1994 season, so their fans there are a little more humble. A news gay sports bar, Hi Tops, opened in the city last year and it made the pages of Sports Illustrated when the magazine ran a photo of two gay male patrons making out after the 49ers won the NFC championship.
THE GAY ANGLE: It's hard to go wrong with either team when it comes to gay acceptance. We have written a ton about Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and his outspoken support for gay rights. He is the most consistently vocal athlete supporter on the issue and said he wants to use the Super Bowl platform to talk about LGBT rights.
“I see the big picture,” Ayanbadejo told the Baltimore Sun. “There was a time when women didn't have rights, black people didn't have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we're slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we'll be on our way.”
Ayanbadejo has the support of management, including team President Dick Cass, who told him, “we're not an organization that discriminate.” Ravens center Matt Birk, who is retiring after the Super Bowl, has taken the other side on same-sex marriage, though he has not been anywhere near as vocal as Ayanbadejo.
The 49ers are the first NFL team to produce a video for the It Gets Better project. Coach Jim Harbaugh said last month that he would welcome an openly gay player and treat him the same as any player. Owner John York and his co-owner and wife Denise DeBartolo York have made frequent trips to gay bars in the Castro to woo LGBT fans. "That is an absolutely good opportunity to be able to meet fans," York told the San Jose Mercury News in 2008 of the annual tour he makes through the Castro. And, it's "'a fair bet" no NFL owner goes so far to cultivate gay and lesbian fans, he told the paper.
Update: After I wrote this, 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver said some awful things to shock jock Artie Lange about having a gay teammate:
“I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
The 49ers condemned the comments, but it was the big story for the media midweek and probably caused some people to root for the Ravens.
ENTERTAINMENT: Speaking of a gay angle, Beyoncé is the halftime entertainment this year, though I am so out of that musical loop (I'm more into indie alternative) that I couldn't name a song she has done without looking it up. People magazine reports that she will team up with “Destiny's Child bandmates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.” I for one won't be riveted, but a lot of you watching will be. Last year, I was at an all-gay Super Bowl party and during Madonna's halftime show, the house was dead quiet. Minutes after she was done, two-thirds of the crowd bolted.
The big question, on the heels of her National Anthem “did she or did not” rendition at the Inaugural, is whether Beyoncé will lip sync on Sunday. There might be more tweets sent out about this than for the game itself.
THE COMMERCIALS: The Super Bowl commercials get more overhyped each year, especially since you can go on tons of sites to see sneak previews (which kind of ruins the element of surprise). CBS is raking in the cash, charging as much as $4 million for a 30-second spot. Bad news – the annoying E-Trade baby is back with a 30-second spot. I am not a fan of infanticide, but would make an exception in this case.
FOR THE EYES: Hot is in the eye of the beholder, and for my money the 49ers are the hotter team. The hottest guy might not even play – 49ers backup quarterback Alex Smith. The shot of him in an ice tub is still one of my favorite sports photos ever.
For the 49ers, I love Kapernick's smile, the studliness of tight end Garrett Celek, backup receiver Chad Hall and linebacker Patrick Willis.
For the Ravens, rookie kicker Justin Tucker is a super-cutie (a reader took a photo of Tucker adjusting himself; scroll down halfway on the page), while QB Joe Flacco has smoldering looks. I'm also partial to safety Sean Considine and receiver Anquan Boldin, while readers have noted the look of tight end Dennis Pitta.
(Click image for larger view):
BEST BODY, RAVENS: With players wearing helmets and bulky uniforms, it's not always easy to tell who has a rocking bod, but Ayanbadejo loves flaunting what he's got and I can't blame him:
BEST BODY, 49ERS: Vernon Davis. Ridiculous.
THE GAME: The pointspread is small for a reason – these teams are evenly matched and any outcome would not be a surprise. That's been the trend of the past nine Super Bowls, all that were within a touchdown or less in the fourth quarter.
On offense, the 49ers will employ what they call the “Pistol,” an offensive formation that gives Kaepernick the option to run, hand the ball off or pass. It is very difficult to defend, especially for teams that are seeing it for the first time. The Ravens played the Washington Redskins this season and the Skins employed a similar offense with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Baltimore did not do a good job in stopping the Redskins, losing 31-28 in overtime. However, the Ravens were missing several key defensive players in that game who will play against San Francisco, and all of them will play against the 49ers.
The 49ers key offensive weapons are Kaepernick, running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Receiver Randy Moss has been generally quiet this season, but he still has the speed to get deep and I predict he will score a touchdown in the game. On defense, the Ravens are led by the annoying Ray Lewis, who talks God at the drop of a hat. I loved Houston Texans Connor Barwin tweeting: “Ray Lewis is going to make [tim] tebow look like an atheist the next two weeks.” Paul Kruger developed into a terrific pass rusher, while linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed are veteran stars who can make plays.
On the flip side, the Ravens employ a more conventional offense. They have become more unpredictable with their play calls since Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator, and Flacco has thrived. The Ravens throw the deep passes very well and that will pose a problem for the 49ers, who have had trouble rushing the passer the past month, which exposes their secondary. The Ravens' key weapons are running back Ray Rice, receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta.
The 49ers have a terrific defense, but it has sprung some holes late in the season, not getting as much pressure on the quarterback and giving up a lot of big plays. The Smith's (Justin and Aldon), key the defensive line, while linebacker Patrick Willis is the defensive leader.
Special teams could be a factor. Justin Tucker has been clutch all season for the Ravens as a kicker, but his 49ers counterpart David Akers has been erratic, missing a bunch of kicks. If the game comes down to Akers needing to make a field goal, 49er fans will not be able to watch.
THE PICK: I see a back-and-forth affair as the Harbaugh brothers try to outguess each other. In 2001, Tom Brady was a second-year backup who replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe and kept the job when Bledsoe got healthy. Brady led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win in New Orleans. In 2012, Colin Kaepernick was a second-year backup who replaced an injured Alex Smith and kept the job when Smith got healthy. Kaepernick has now led the 49ers to a Super Bowl in New Orleans. History repeats itself: 49ers 24, Ravens 20.