Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The bad news is that the fun parts of the NFL season are over. All the regular season's twisting storylines (rookie quarterbacks! 2000-yards! Chuckstrong!) and comic relief (Dallas! Tebow!) ended long ago. And as of Sunday night, the high-stakes drama of the playoffs, with entire seasons and careers in the balance of every game, came to a close as well. Now we know: The Baltimore Ravens will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. But by making the Super Bowl, both teams can call the season a ringing success. Meanwhile, fans of the other 30 NFL teams are already looking to next year and rolling their eyes as the Super Bowl hype-machine picks up speed.
In short: football's over. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the Harbaugh family is having the reunion in New Orleans tis year, and we're all invited!
When the 49ers—led by second-year coach Jim Harbaugh—meet the Ravens—whose head coach John Harbaugh is Jim's older brother—in two weeks, it will be the first collision of head coach brothers in the Super Bowl. Their dad, longtime high school and college coach Jack Harbaugh, and mom Jackie, will undoubtedly get more Super Bowl screen time than the GoDaddy ad line-up. Jim and John's sister, Joani, is married to University of Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers are currently ranked No. 2 in the country.
If you want a one-line preview of the Harbaugh Bowl, it's this: Expect an exciting second half. On Sunday, the Harbaughs' teams outscored their opponents a combined 35 - 0 in the second half of their games.
Baltimore played itself into the Super Bowl this weekend by smothering New England, 28 - 13, in the AFC Championship with hard-nosed defense, a tough running game and two freakishly great touchdown catches from Anquan Boldin.
San Francisco's Super Bowl formula was a bit easier: They got there because they have quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who we learned two things about this weekend: He can win in more ways than any other quarterback in the NFL; and his parents are cool enough to be amused by jokes about him getting a wedgie.
Thanks to Twitter, a picture circulated before Sunday's NFC Championship game between San Francisco-Atlanta game of Kaepernick's adoptive parents standing next to a huge, cartoonish statue outside the Georgia Dome. It was of an oversize Atlanta Falcon giving their son a massive wedgie. Kaepernick's mom appears to be comforting her wedgie-suffering son, and his dad seems, if not amused, then at least taking it in stride.
The joke, of course, ended up being on Atlanta when Kaepernick led the 49ers back from a 17 - 0 deficit to win, 28-24, clinching the 49ers first Super Bowl bid since 1995.
Perhaps even more impressively, Kaepernick, a week after running for an NFL-record 181 yards to beat Green Bay, beat Atlanta almost entirely with his arm, passing for 223 yards while running for just 21. Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis for 106 yards and a touchdown. Atlanta's Matt Ryan was fearless, throwing for 396 yards and all three of the Falcons touchdowns, but could not extend an early lead.
Baltimore 28, New England 13: If we learned one thing from the Patriots-Ravens game, it's that "Bal'more" kids stick together. When a dirty play by New England's Tom Brady went unflagged last in the first half, no less than Olympic swimming champ Michael Phelps, a Baltimore Native and Ravens fan, took to Twitter to vent about it.
On his last play of the first half, Brady slid to the ground after a short run, a common move for quarterbacks when they scramble. Baltimore defender Ed Reed, who was closing in for a hit, pulled up and jumped harmlessly out Brady's way, also a typical play in such a moment. Then came the kick.
As Brady slid, he threw an unmistakable Daniel Larusso-at-the-All-Valley touney kick at Reed, an indefensibly cheap and childish act. As Reed leapt to avoid Brady, the quarterbacks' foot caught Reed's calf, sending him spilling—harmlessly—to the ground.
In the flood of outraged tweets that soon followed, one of the very first was from Phelps, the Olympic champion and one of the few Baltimore athletes that rivals Raven Ray Lewis' status as a favorite son in the city. "I mean really? You're allowed to just kick your spikes up like that at the end of a play?? #cheapwaytoplay" the swimmer tweeted.
CBS replayed Brady's slide once, with CBS's Phil Simms preposterously arguing that the only error Brady was guilty of was endangering himself on the play, exposing his leg to danger.
But, like Kaepernick's parents, Reed got the last laugh as he and the Ravens' defense gave Brady, well, a game-long wedgie. The Ravens intercepted two Brady passes, including one in the end zone to end a late New England comeback. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns to Boldin and another to tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta's touchdown came with a note of revenge. As Baltimore threatened to score, Pitta took a huge hit from New England's Jared Mayo. He bounced and scored on the next play.