Coming into the two-week layoff before the Super Bowl, many feared the media would oversaturate us with mentions of “The Harbowl.” It was beaten to death leading up to last year’s Thanksgiving night battle between the Ravens and the 49ers and now, with a stage infinitely larger than a Thursday Night Football game, pundits would most certainly be running wild with the brother vs. brother angle again.
Surprisingly, it appears the hereditary storyline has been overshadowed by Ray Lewis’ retirement. The future Hall of Fame linebacker announced his impending swan song at the start of the playoffs, and the Ravens have been on a tear ever since. They took down the Colts in the Wild Card round, complete with Lewis lined up in the victory formation for a final “squirrel dance” at M&T Bank Stadium. Then they beat Peyton Manning’s Broncos in Denver and the Patriots in Foxborough. All the while, Lewis’ showmanship has elevated, his quotes have been more prolific and his celebrations have become more eccentric. No doubt the media has gone a long way to fuel his behavior, ensuring cameras are nearby for every opportunity to capture the essence of Ray. But much like how the public’s distain for Tim Tebow is predicated on how much time Skip Bayless spends fawning over him, many are growing weary of the media’s permanently-looped “win one for Ray” narrative.
We’ve all heard it: there can only be one, and for this Super Bowl the Ravens are the “team of destiny.” If there is a lazier thesis from which a writer can craft an argument I haven’t found one. Although being underdogs and winning in fantastic fashion have both played roles in shaping the Ravens’ “destiny” theory this postseason, the real cause is undoubtedly Lewis.
The NFL has a special shot at history this weekend: few athletes ever retire with a championship. Bill Russell did it. John Elway did it. Bill Walsh did it as the 49ers’ head coach. It’s a Hollywood-style ending, important for developing the legend of a sport, but it certainly doesn’t make Lewis anymore deserving of a championship than the next guy.
Lewis has enjoyed a fruitful 17-year NFL career. He’s a 13-time Pro Bowler and a 7-time first team All Pro. He’s also played in 20 playoff games, winning 13 of them. One of those playoff wins was a Super Bowl in 2000. He was awarded Super Bowl MVP that year.
What about Frank Gore? Gore has been playing in the NFL for eight years, all of which for the 49ers. His only winning seasons were 2011 and 2012, but for years he was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disastrous franchise. He’s been “the bell cow” of the 49ers offense, and even with the 49ers’ shift towards a passing attack this year, establishing the run with Gore is still a key if the 49ers want to win. He has now played in four playoff games, and his fifth will be Super Bowl XLVII. Although Gore has made no mention of retirement, this could also be his last shot at winning a Lombardi Trophy.
So does Lewis deserve a second Super Bowl title more than Gore deserves his first, simply because the linebacker is retiring? Better yet: does ANY player on either team deserve to win this Super Bowl more than the next one? I’m inclined to say no.
Every member of the Ravens and the 49ers has been afforded a rare opportunity this Sunday — few players ever get a chance to play in a Super Bowl, let alone two. Lewis playing for a championship before his retirement is a nice story, but it doesn’t make him anymore deserving than Gore, Ray Rice, or even Brian Jennings.
So this is neither a tirade against Lewis nor is it a campaign to rally the troops and “win one for Gore.” Rather, it’s an appeal to take a step back from media-driven sensationalism of one man’s effect on a team and the outcome of a game. Believing in a “team of destiny” is no more real than believing the socks you choose to wear on Sunday will somehow alter the outcome of a game. And just like the media will continue to force-feed us the tired “destiny” angle, folks will still slip on those lucky socks and put faith in superstition.
The truth is simply this: the team destined to win on Sunday is the team that prepares the best, executes its preparation and ultimately outscores its opponent. Cinderella storylines can write themselves after the confetti has fallen. Regardless of who it ends up being, the victorious team will be the one that deserves it.