NEW ORLEANS -- The Baltimore Ravens had the one thing the San Francisco 49ers couldn’t replicate – experience in the thinnest air. They’d been here, and they’d done this. Their roster history extended back to the team’s last Super Bowl in 2000, and that institutional memory is a valuable resource in even the strangest times.
Like a stadium blackout.
“The bad part was, we started talking about it,” veteran safety Ed Reed said of the 34-minute delay in the joyous aftermath of the Ravens’ 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII. “That was mentioned. It was like they were trying to kill our momentum. I was like, ‘There are two teams on this field.’ Once we started talking, it happened.”
But in the end . . .
“We had to refocus, and we did.”
Veteran teams can do that. So can young teams. John Harbaugh credited Li’l Bro’ with “handling the delay better than we did.”
But the difference between the Ravens and 49ers is also this. The Ravens are an older team, with more things to replace and tweak and restore than the 49ers. If their window isn’t closing, it is narrowing a bit, while the 49ers’ is if anything widening.
But wider doesn’t mean “wide enough to crawl through.” “Wider” means, well, wider. And no more. The Ravens know this because they’ve lived it.
“That’s the thing about this team,” fullback Vonta Leach said. “Everybody outside the locker room is always counting us out. We went through a lot of adversity through the year that normal things don’t go through. We had key guys go down for a long period of time, and we needed younger guys to play and get better. And when the veterans came back, we just started rolling.”
And they applied the lessons of the years to the task, especially when it got difficult. Good and smart is a tough combination to beat.
Not that the 49ers aren’t good, or smart. But their early mistakes put them in a bind that was different than the bind they escaped in Atlanta. And their reluctance to go with their best, Colin Kaepernick or Frank Gore, at least once in their final four-down series, is probably something they will rue for awhile.
[RATTO: 49ers lost Super Bowl before the lights went out]
“I’m actually surprised they didn’t try to run it with Frank Gore, really,” said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. “He was definitely getting hit in the fourth quarter and they hurt us bad with the running game.”
But Gore’s last touch was his 33-yard burst to the Baltimore 7-yard-line, and Kaepernick threw the last three plays in difficult spots to Michael Crabtree, his favorite receiver throughout his 10-game tenure. Those are things that will sting through the offseason, as Baltimore’s many close misses forged the Ravens for what may be their last deep run for awhile. They do, after all, have a lot of mileage.
“I feel our confidence,” Crabtree said. “We keep taking baby steps. First it’s the NFC Championship. Now it’s the Super Bowl. We’re not going to have this team with so many weapons on our team like this every year. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do and handle business.”
Of course, the only two teams to lose the Super Bowl one year and win it the next are Dallas and Miami, and that was in 1971 and 1972. The line that rises also falls, and today’s good fortune can often be tomorrow’s buzzard’s luck. Baltimore went through 13 years of it, and if the 49ers can learn anything from Sunday – other than to remember Ray Lewis’ celebration and safety Cary Williams called them “fake tough guys. They’re shove you in the back tough guys” – it is how hard this is to do year after year.