The NFL gets it’s Fairytale Ending

As the dust settles on the events of last night in New Orleans and with Valentine’s Day not far off, it’s safe to say that the romance of the NFL is still well and truly in bloom.

Ever since the Conference Championship Games threw up the Ravens-49ers match-up two weeks ago, the media has gone barmy as a number of plot-lines all came to a head – the first ever Head Coach Brother vs Brother battle dubbed the Har-bowl, or Super-Baugh (amongst other names), the final swansong for the Ravens’ Defensive stalwart Ray Lewis and the opportunity for the 49ers to match Pittsburgh’s record of six Superbowl wins (albeit without yet losing) on the back of upstart Quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Around the world, Superbowl Sunday has become a huge event, and the viewing figures are on the increase year on year. Whilst the US naturally has a whole load of hoop-la surrounding the game, fans in the UK have also built up quite a social scene around the game, even though the time difference makes it a through-the-night affair! For me, being in the sticks of rural Shropshire, there is no such opportunity for me (that I’m aware of) to join in such frivolity. So, for a second consecutive year, I watched the game alone in the comfort of my living room.

Now, staying up as late as 4am at the best of times is a challenge only surmountable through copious quantities of coffee and energy drinks, but throw in a 3am airport run to take the girlfriend and our son to Birmingham to catch a flight to the in-laws in Austria on Sunday morning, that made it a 25 hour marathon of endurance, because I just couldn’t see myself sleeping through the daylight hours.

I made it to kick-off well enough having enjoyed a pre-game pizza, a beer and a quick burst of Madden NFL on the PlayStation and put BBC2 on to be taken through the game by Mark Chapman, Mike Carlson and Willie McGinest as the obligatory former pro, along with pictures and commentary courtesy of the CBS channel’s Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. There was the Red Button option to get the BBC’s FiveLive alternative commentary from Darren Fletcher and Rocky Boiman, but I stuck with CBS for full authenticity! That’s not to take anything away from our guys, because having watched them anchor the BBC’s Monday Night Football coverage (once the Beeb realised that constant stat screens between the action was dull and uninspiring), I am hoping that they return with MNF in the new format for next season.

On to the game, then. After a fruitless opening drive for the 49ers, the ball came to Baltimore. New Golden boy, Joe Flacco took the Ravens up the field and got the first points on the board thanks to a throw down the centre to Boldin for a Touchdown. By the end of the First Quarter, San Francisco were also on the board thanks to a Field Goal to cut the deficit to 7-3. Into the Second Quarter, and the Ravens were displaying Offensive fluidity in contrast to the 49ers stuttering and stumbling attack, and after a 49ers fumble from great field position, a 1 yard completion to Pitta (earning his bread) capped another scoring drive to extend the lead to 14-3. The next 49er drive was abruptly cut short by the first interception of the night, and of the 49ers Superbowl history (five Superbowls and no interceptions is quite a feat, so hats off to messrs Montana and Young). Then, as the Ravens were held up at 4th Down, a fake Field Goal attempt almost bore fruit only to be stopped short of the first down mark.

Now what happened next, I don’t really know, as tiredness got the better of me and I remember nothing more until I was eventually woken up by Beyonce strutting her stuff in the Half-time show! A quick trip to the kitchen for coffee and energy drink got me revitalised ready to, erm, enjoy the remainder of Beyonce’s performance, still in ignorance of what I had missed. The second half approached, and I finally discovered the Ravens had taken a 21-6 lead into the break. On Twitter, Joey Barton was confident of a Baltimore victory and other ‘celebrities’ were also sharing their feelings on the game. The 49ers kicked off the second half deep into the end zone, Jacoby Jones caught it and went on a 108 yard kick return run all the way back to seemingly put the game to bed at 28-6. Initially it was chalked up as a 109 yard Superbowl record, only to be revised down by a yard.

And then the lights went out. Half of the Superdome was plunged into darkness (bar the emergency lighting) and an eventual 34 minute delay ensued. The cut took out the BBC television and radio feeds, and initially the CBS guys too, but thankfully power was restored so that the necessary information was relayed to the viewing public. The BBC returned at last, and the game resumed. During the pause, there was speculation abound as to how the teams would be affected, with the general consensus being that professionals should be able to cope with the unexpected. In reality though, the stoppage sparked San Francisco into life on both sides of the ball. After Kaepernick connected to Crabtree to shrink the deficit to 28-13, a short Baltimore drive (including a sack of Flacco) ended in a punt, which Ginn returned to the 20 yard line. Frank Gore ran in for a score, and the game was truly back on at 28-20 to Baltimore.

The comeback continued as San Francisco forced a fumble and took a field goal to put the score at 28-23 in the Ravens’ favour. The scene was set for a treat of a Fourth Quarter, so I retrieved my last energy drink from the fridge and settled in. Baltimore opened up an eight point lead through a Field Goal of their own (no fakes this time) and prepared to hold off the resurgent 49ers. Unbelievably, or believably if you have seen him in action before, Colin Kaepernick ran in from the Baltimore 15 yard line to put the 49ers just a two point conversion from parity. Sadly it was not to be, so the Ravens got the ball back leading 31-29 with nine minutes still left in the game. They took just over five minutes off the clock with a ten play drive culminating in another Field Goal to open up a 34-29 lead.

Excitement abound as, for the third successive Superbowl (I think), it would all come down to the final five minutes. By now, the energy was flowing through my veins, giving the chemical equivalent of inserting match-sticks in my eyes. When the next drive was halted at the Baltimore 5 yard line with just under two minutes left and with the 49ers having used two Timeouts already, in controversial circumstances (a seemingly clear Defensive Pass Interference call that never came), the scene looked set for Ray Lewis’ farewell to end with him holding aloft the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Baltimore ran three run plays to keep the clock ticking and in a tactical move they took a Safety, allowing the 49ers to within 3 points at 34-31, but with a mere 4 seconds remaining. Bar a return by San Francisco, the game was won!

And that is how it finished. Despite a spirited comeback, the 49ers weren’t able to complete the job, even with a post-blackout score of 25-6 in their favour. I stuck it long enough to see the trophy presentation (as I do with the FA Cup coverage) and dragged my weary self to bed.

When all is said and done, the Har-bowl ended with the younger brother left in the shadow of big brother in what may be ultimately dubbed ‘The Black-out Bowl’. (I’m sure I saw this moniker on Twitter last night, or this morning, but I’m unable to find it again to attribute it properly).

So, that’s it until September. In a season that truly re-ignited my love for the game thanks to an investment in time by the BBC, the joys of mobile TV on smartphones, and the best book of the year – Tailgate to Heaven by Adam Goldstein: his story of a UK fan on an oddysey to experience all NFL franchises at all 32 stadiums in one season.

I can’t wait, if I’m honest! On the 29th September, I shall be heading to Wembley Stadium to watch my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers play the Minnesota Vikings. Bring It On!!

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