After arriving in New Orleans on Monday, there was so many media events with more access than I had anticipated. I had never spoken to so many members of the San Francisco 49ers in such a short amount of time, and as a result I was so busy uploading and formatting and transcribing that I had barely any time to eat, let alone fully comprehend exactly how important this football game is to everyone … especially the players who had to answer all my questions.
Fair or not, every Super Bowl permanently shapes the lives and legacies of all who participate. Randy Moss was asked if winning this Super Bowl would erase the pain of losing five years ago with the Patriots, when New England was hoping to finish the year with a 19-0 record. Moss said no, because that would just mean he could’ve had two rings.
But enough looking back to the past. A topic that has been explored ad nauseam (and I am also guilty of this) is the 49ers’ perfect record in Super Bowls. But that’s unfair to the players on this squad who have worked so hard to get to this point, men who haven’t been helped in any way by those old teams and players. Well, besides maybe Tom Rathman, the 49ers’ current running backs coach who was a part of two championship teams in the late 1980s.
This isn’t about Joe Montana or Steve Young, it’s about Colin Kaepernick, who seized his opportunity on a Monday night against the Chicago Bears. Kaepernick never played tentatively, and he and the team never looked back. This is about Frank Gore, who epitomizes the struggle it took for the 49ers to get here from the depths of NFL putridity. Patrick Willis often gives the pregame speech on the field, now he gets to motivate his peers before the biggest game of all of their lives. Justin Smith came to the 49ers from Cincinnati, trading one losing franchise for another, until Jim Harbaugh arrived and everything changed after halftime of that game in Philadelphia. The stories, both individual and collective, go on and on.
The time for statistical comparisons and theoretical matchups is over. In less than four hours, the 49ers and Ravens will take the field after hours of interviews and practices, film sessions and internal discussions about how to prepare for something you can never truly prepare for. Whoever handles the moment better and allows their talent to supersede their fear of failure on the biggest stage will triumph.
I made the most impulsive purchase in my life this week. When the prices dipped to a new low on the secondary market, I pounced on two seats in the second deck of the Superdome — behind the right end zone if you’re watching the game on TV, just to the right of the uprights based on the standard camera angle from behind the kicker on field goal attempts. I just might be wearing a red t-shirt and cap, clothes that were by no means allowed when I was in the presence of players and coaches from Monday through Friday.
Why did I spend more money than a rational person ever should for entry to an event that will only last 3.5 hours? It might have something to do with this town. This is my first Super Bowl, but I can’t imagine a better place to hold one. Yesterday was insane, there’s no better word for it. Peaceful mobs (except for a few obnoxious Ravens fans, but they were harmless), all drinking tall cans of beer and giant plastic tubes filled with neon-colored sugary alcohol. 49ers fans high-fiving and fist-bumping other 49ers fans as they passed by. There is no bad food here. Everywhere is walkable, which is perfect because pedestrians move faster than cars on these clogged streets — streets filled with proud locals wearing Drew Brees jerseys and tipsy fans wearing purple and black or red and gold. For those who say we Americans will never understand the spirit and pageantry of football in Europe, South America or Africa, please come to New Orleans during the week before any Super Bowl played here. Actually, maybe a better comparison would be to say it’s been like a weeklong SEC tailgate for a professional game.
I’m pretty sure I feel the same mixture of excitement and anxiety you do as you read this. Sure, there are selfish reasons for wanting the 49ers to win (when the local teams succeed it certainly isn’t bad for business). However, in getting to know the players, coaches and team employees a little bit, I find it even easier to pull for San Francisco. Then there’s The City itself. Win or lose, we’re in the midst of a golden age of San Francisco sports, but a win tonight would cap these last two-plus years off perfectly.