NEW ORLEANS – With just days left before Super Bowl XLVII, we’re all waiting to see Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis play his final game before riding off into the sunset, concluding an amazing 17-year career in Baltimore. Nearly every sports publication in the nation has commented on Lewis’ chance to cap off his career with a second Super Bowl ring, a fairytale ending for one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Lewis’ redemption serves as the background to his epic story. Once a murder suspect in a double-homicide case in 2000, Lewis was acquitted, and was later named the MVP of the 2001 Super Bowl. From that point forward, Lewis has totally reinvented his life and career, becoming one of the most inspirational leaders in the sports world. He proved that once again when he returned early from a torn triceps injury to lead his team through one of the most compelling Super Bowl runs in recent football history.
And then, of course, there’s the other dominant story line leading up to Feb. 3: the Har-Bowl. Head coach John Harbaugh of the Ravens will take on his younger brother, Jim of the San Francisco 49ers, the first time in league history that two brothers will coach against one another in the championship game.
Their father, Jack Harbaugh, was a former college football coach at Western Kentucky and the brothers followed their father’s lead into a life of football. Jim, the better athlete of the two, went on to play quarterback at University of Michigan before playing in the NFL for 15 years. He later coached at Stanford before taking over as the 49ers coach just two years ago. John served nearly a decade as the special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles before taking the reins of the Ravens for the past five seasons.
The media latched onto the story to the degree that even the Harbaugh brothers are sick of talking about it. Still, it’s exciting to know that two brothers that grew up competing against each other will now duke it out for an opportunity to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy.
But those are just the obvious story lines that most sports fans know about. Here are a handful of not-so-obvious story lines they might not be familiar with:
Ozzie Newsome has a chance for his first Super Bowl as a GM
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome made history in 2002 when he became the first African-American general manager in the NFL. He helped the Ravens win the 2001 Super Bowl as a front office executive, which rightfully catapulted him into the GM position. Since then, Newsome has become one of the most respected general managers in the league, leading the Ravens to eight playoff appearances during his tenure. Now, he has a chance to win his Super Bowl ring as a general manager; if he pulls it off, he will become only the second African-American general manager to win one, following New York Giants GM Jerry Reese, who shepherded New York to Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011.
Newsome doesn’t talk to the media about his own standing, but the coaches and players that serve underneath him often express just how significant he is to the team and the league.
“Ozzie is the foundation of the Ravens,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “He’s drafted every player and made every free-agent signing that’s come through here. There is no “us” without Ozzie. We’re not here without Ozzie.”
Some have suggested that, after more than 20 years as an NFL executive and a 13-year career as a Hall of Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns, the 56-year-old Newsome may retire. But Ozzie recently told the media that’s not in the cards.
“That’s not even close,” Newsome said. “Really, I enjoy the guys I work with and I think we have a great staff. I really, really enjoy the players and my relationships with them and that helps me in coming to work every day. Of course, winning helps, too.”
Ed Reed returns to his home state for the biggest game of his career
If Ray Lewis is the leader of the Ravens, there’s no doubt that veteran safety Ed Reed has been his second-in-command. With 61 career interceptions, nine Pro Bowl appearances, eight All-Pro selections, a NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and several league records, Reed has already secured his place in the Hall of Fame. But because Reed arrived in Baltimore one season after the Super Bowl victory of 2001, his resume lacks the only accomplishment that he truly values: a Super Bowl ring.
Now Reed gets the opportunity that he has patiently waited 11 long years for, and it comes in his home state of Louisiana. Reed was born in St. Rose, La., just a few miles outside of New Orleans, where Super Bowl XLVII will kick off. Reed told reporters that it’s a perfect situation.
“I was just telling [teammate and Ravens safety] Bernard [Pollard] that I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Reed said. “Other than to see my son graduate from college, this is it, man. I’m set for life!”
Though some suggested that Reed may retire along with Lewis after the Super Bowl run, he recently told the media that he plans on playing next season.
A second chance for a ring comes for a pair of veteran receivers
Both the Ravens and the 49ers have a veteran receiver on their roster that will get another opportunity to win a Super Bowl ring. For the Ravens, it’s three-time Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin, who served majority of his 10 years in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Boldin came close to winning a ring during the 2009 Super Bowl, but the Cardinals fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23.
Like Boldin, 49ers receiver Randy Moss has also built a highly decorated career, but does not have a Super Bowl victory. Moss has been named to seven Pro Bowls over 14 seasons in the league and owns the single season record for touchdown catches (23), but remains ringless after losing his only Super Bowl appearance with the New England Patriots in 2008.
These two receivers have very different styles of play: Moss is a speedster who stretches the field and Boldin is a big, physical possession receiver. But they’ll both share the same goal on Super Bowl Sunday: getting the ring that they came so close to earning years ago.
University of Maryland represented on the grand stage
The University of Maryland football team will see two of its former stars featured in Super Bowl XLVII: 49ers Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis and Ravens second-year receiver Torrey Smith. Davis, a native of Washington, D.C., was drafted by San Francisco with the sixth overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, while Smith was taken in the second round by the Ravens in the 2011 draft. Both players have been important pieces to their team’s success this season: Smith caught 49 passes for eight touchdowns, while Davis caught 41 passes for five touchdowns.
By Perry Green
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper