Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Young guns vs. wily veterans

Super Bowl epic clash of youth, experience

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Sunday's Super Bowl is best viewed as a confrontation the likes of which we saw in a movie called Cold Mountain.

The hero and the villain are on horseback and sauntering parallel to one another, across a steep mountain escarpment, about to draw down. One is a war veteran who has deserted from the American Civil War, the other a young gunslinger who just saw his partner gunned down.

The soldier wants his adversary to voluntarily disarm and go about his way, the young rider doesn't trust that if he does, his combatant will keep his word.

"What we have here is a conundrum," the young rider exclaims, "but I'll tell you what I have on my side. The confidence of youth!"

With no further compunction, they both draw their pistols and shoot each other dead.

Sunday's matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers is truly that elemental.

The 49ers are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and their quarterback will be starting only his 10th game. Ray Lewis, the legendary middle linebacker for the opposition, has knocked out more QBs than that.

This matchup is little more than the ever relenting confrontation of age and experience versus youthful exuberance.

Every team fights to find an optimal balance of young and veteran players. Too much of one, like too many veterans, and you have the 2013 Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. Too much of the other, like too many glassy eyed, inexperienced players, and you have the 2012 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Brash

The 49ers have all the confidence of youth and play like they don't know any better. Their quarterback is so young he doesn't even know the extent of what he doesn't know. He is brash and unassuming in victory, when you figure he would be overwhelmed and intimidated by the moment.

Which is what makes the Colin Kaepernick story so compelling. He should have cracked and floundered by now and revealed some mental vulnerability or immaturity, but he hasn't, and physically speaking, he is even more impressive.

Not only is Kaep faster than any Ravens linebacker tasked with keeping him in check, he has the best player in this game in his stable too, namely tight end Vernon Davis.

On the other side of the ball, San Fran is young and fearless on defence.

Whereas probing deep into the post-season is old hat to the Ravens, it is new to the 49ers. They don't have prior experiences to rely on, they don't know what variables may surface on the grandest of stages. But they do have the audacity to show up, and the raw talent and naiveté to win it all.

In marked contrast, the Ravens are the weathered warhorses of playoff football. They are no longer what they once were, but they have conviction.

They no longer hang their hat on their run-stopping ability, or a penchance for making their opponent one dimensional.

The most fearful trait of this Ravens defence is now their reputation.

Lewis is suddenly a player you can run at, and Ed Reed, although still a physical load, is no longer the ball hawk he once was.

The Ravens are a team that, out of necessity, are now led by their offence, and inspired by the words and not necessarily the deeds of their defence.

The intangibles you get from a veteran team, though, are that they understand the finality of the moment. They can appreciate how hard it is to get to this point, and they will kill themselves to drink that elixir one last time. Their biggest challenge is whether their bodies can still be coerced and convinced to follow their minds.

Like any championship contest, mistakes will be magnified and will play a disproportionate role in determining the outcome. That being said, and everything else being equal, I don't think youth can or will be denied in this game or warded off by the steely hands of experience that the Ravens represent.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 C4

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