Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

XLVII shaping up to be a perfect X

Big game boasts strong teams, compelling storylines

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The Super Bowl has hype built into its very name, but this year's NFL championship matchup needs no help from the league's massive marketing machine.

Storylines abound. Coaching brothers scheming from opposite sidelines, a retiring legend with a conflicted past and two young quarterbacks looking to make names for themselves.

 

There are hooks for purists, cynics and those looking for an angle dunked in sentiment.

Mothers and fathers all over the world will identify with the parents of Jim and John Harbaugh, who cannot win and cannot lose this Sunday.

Football folks will ogle this matchup between a pair of diverse teams that can grind and flash on offence and pound and menace on defence.

Post-Katrina New Orleans will welcome the eyes of the world once more and attempt to project a vision of strength, hope and rebirth.

This is just a football game, but it's also become a representation of American society. The biggest one-day sporting event in North America and a corporate orgy of obscene proportions. It's big-picture look at so much of what is wrong with society -- from the placing of professional athletes on pedestals to the widening gap between classes. Pomp and pageantry parading past the disenfranchised.

The game, so often a dud, is setting up to be memorable. Two teams on the rise at just the right time, with substantial weaponry on both sides of the ball.

It's unlikely this week will slip past us and be just another road sign on our sporting conscience. This will be something we remember for a long time.

 

Har-Bowl: John Harbaugh is a considerate and thoughtful man, who climbed through the coaching ranks to finally get his own team and lead them to a title game. His Baltimore Ravens are built on a foundation of big and bad. They are among the most physical and intimidating teams in all of football. Most often, the Ravens will beat you on the scoreboard. But win or lose, they will always give you a beating.

Jim Harbaugh, the slightly younger brother, spent 15 years as a quarterback in the NFL. A short stint as head coach at Stanford University preceded his ascension to the top job with the San Francisco 49ers. Less cordial and perhaps a little more intense, Jim is the golden boy who enjoyed a big-time college career at Michigan.

Parents Jack and Jackie have already admitted how torn they will be at game's end, with one son experiencing the greatest moment of his career and the other the worst.

 

Roger's return: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has a dual image in New Orleans -- both sinner and saint. The people here owe Goodell a debt of gratitude for his role in keeping the Saints in this city following Katrina. This game could very easily have ended up in San Antonio had Goodell not fought against the relocation of the franchise to Texas. New Orleans was in ruins and Saints owner Tom Benson was being wooed by San Antonio. Goodell stepped in and battled to keep the Saints in Louisiana.

But Goodell is also despised for his handling of the bounty scandal last off-season. He handed out suspensions and fines that left the team crippled and unable to compete at their expected level. Goodell deserves a pass this week from the folks of New Orleans. He won't get it.

 

The real Ray Lewis: First-ballot Hall of Famer. Murder suspect. Religious zealot. Father of six children with four women. It's tough to get a handle on the real Ray Lewis.

No doubt, Lewis is one of the best linebackers to ever play the game. Top five on many lists. The 13-time Pro Bowler has announced this will be his last season and he's been praising God for his role in writing a script that will finally end on Sunday.

But there's also an undeniable dark side to Lewis, that at its peak, saw him implicated in the murder of two young men following a Super Bowl party in Atlanta. Lewis and two associates were charged with murder and the football player eventually agreed to an obstruction of justice plea in exchange for testifying against his friends, both of who were acquitted. Lewis settled civil suits with the families of the dead men rather than endure more courtroom angst.

 

The next elite QB: The Niners have 25-year-old Colin Kaepernick and his tattooed arms behind centre. The Ravens turn to 28-year-old Joe Flacco and his record of nine road playoff wins. Most football games turn on quarterback play and this Super Bowl will be no different.

Kaepernick has shown an ability to run and also has a huge arm capable of zipping the intermediate pass and bombing the deep pattern.

Flacco, despite playing in 12 post-season games and winning eight of them in his first six seasons of professional football, is not viewed as elite by many observers. A win on Sunday and he will enter the realm of Brady, Manning, Brees and Rodgers. This three-game playoff run has seen Flacco throw for 853 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions, compiling a quarterback rating of 114.7

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2013 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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